The Riven Kingdom — Karen Miller

Yo, I want to apologize. A few weeks ago, I recommended the first book in the Godspeaker series, Empress. I finally got the chance to check out The Riven Kingdom, the sequel, and it’s like Miller took everything awesome about Empress and peed on it.

Here’s the plot: Rhian is the only surviving child of the King of Ethrea. She is also a girl (biologically and legally — she’s 17 and hasn’t reached her majority). Marlan, the EVIL PROLATE of the Church of Ethrea, plans to use her gender and age to control the succession — he declares her a ward of the Church (basically that means he has all the rights a father would have over her) and tries to force her to marry the man of his choosing. He plans to rule both the state and the church. He doesn’t actually believe in God — this is all for money. Rhian’s only hope lie in the members of an unlikely trio — Dexterity Jones, a toymaker who’s been receiving visitations from the spirit world warning him of a darkness facing Ethrea and the “free world” (twitch); Ursa, a deeply spiritual, sarcastic, wise physick; and Zandakar, a mysterious foreigner with no past and many dangerous skills.

I enjoyed the techne of the writing — in terms of prose it’s engaging, and moves along at a really good pace. I appreciated that this is a global story of conquest — it’s rare that that comes up in a fantasy world. I liked that it made me think about God and faith a bit more critically than I’m used to. For example, Dexterity doesn’t believe in God, but DOES believe in Hettie, the ghostly apparition who visits him.  Helford, Rhian’s chaplain, does believe in God but isn’t a very likable person, even when he’s doing the things God asks him to do. I just had some major problems with the plot. Here’s a list counting down to my biggest problem.

5. Why does Rhian’s age cease to matter? Helford is able to release her from church wardship, but he does so by releasing her into the custody of the man she marries — isn’t she still legally a child? That was just an annoying plot point, since by the end of the novel, everyone was acting like her age had never been an issue, just her gender. To be honest, I’d’ve found this a much more compelling story if Rhian was about five years older and actually an adult woman. Maybe she’d’ve been less spoiled then.

4. WHY DOES RHIAN DESERVE TO BE QUEEN IN THE FIRST PLACE? While I liked that she basically wants to have a bloodless coup, I’m really hung up on the fact that SHE wants to be queen — it felt like a very selfish quest, since no one mentions her queenly attributes besides her lineage. She’s also really spoiled and quick to anger– while I think those character traits are supposed to make you like her, because they’re quite human, they just really made me question why it’s RIGHT for her to be queen. Plus, I really resisted the idea that it’s her godblessed government that will resist Mijak.

3. The POC characters fulfilled stock rules. Guess what? The Tzung-Tzungchai are sneaky bastards with ninja powers and magic. Also, they care a great deal about courtesy, and use politeness and ritual to mask their true intent. Those sneaky bastards!! I bet they like tea, too. Zandakar is a warrior prince from a land defined by its proficiency in war and its brutal god — which is, BTW, not a god but a bloodthirsty demon that has its populace duped. It’s a desert land, where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your fa — I mean that it’s quite hot there, being a desert and all.

2. Why is Mijak portrayed as having no skills or arts of its own? Now that I’m thinking back to Empress, I see that Miller has created a warrior people who are defined by their prowess in battle. Their skill at sea is the result of having beaten the knowledge out of their conquered peoples. They have no knowledge of healing (they use godspeaker magic to heal people), practice slavery, and have no arts to speak of. I mean, Zandakar is a stranger in a strange land — he never sings a song from home, never tries to replicate the food from there, etc. He never does anything but practice his knife dances — and when Rhian joins him, it’s a sign that she’s growing harder.

1. Why is Ethrea the height of the free world?? Basically, the reason that Rhian is so important is that if Ethrea falls to Marlan, it’ll be unable to stand against Hekat’s conquering army. Soooooooooooooo were the other nations Hekat conquered not part of the free world? Oh, wait, they’re not REALLY FREE if you are using RACIST NEOLIBERAL COLD WAR IDEOLOGIES to frame your definition — they didn’t participate in a global economy, make use of centralized governmental structures, or have laws guaranteeing citizens civil rights. They had some sort of barter base economy organized into small city/village states and respected each other’s civil rights because they were gentle natives. My bad. Got confused.

If you’re reading Empress, STOP THERE. I will tell you in the next few days if Hammer of God is worth reading this drivel.


  1. says

    Hammer of God is not worth it either. It’s more of the same.
    Which is a great shame. I’d love to read more stuff set in Mijak, and from a Mijaki, we-are-the-real-people point of view. Why not tell some merchant stories? Or rebels against Hekat who still believe in the god? There’s immense possibility in Mijak, and it’s just ignored.

  2. Maria V. says

    That sounds like exactly what I feared — basically Rhian is irrelevant in her own life, since it’s Dexterity and Zandakar who constantly need to save her. Even Ursa isn’t a crucial character.

  3. MaggieCat says

    a land defined by its proficiency in war and its brutal god — which is, BTW, not a god but a bloodthirsty demon that has its populace duped.

    Oooh, shades of the Calormene god Tash who put me right off the end of the Chronicles of Narnia. Never a good sign. I really hate this trope, and is infuriatingly common.

  4. Maria V. says

    It is!! But my thing is, it would’ve been much more thematically interesting to have there either be two gods duking it out, or to have it be one god using war to move along the tides of history. The latter would have been v. cool, I think, since it’s the contrast between the bloodthirstiness of the Old and the gentleness of the New that can make the Bible so contradictory. How cool would it have been to actually EXPLORE that and its implications for faith?

    I hate racism and lazy writing.

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