by Raymond Feist & Janny Wurts
Review by Abby Goldsmith, 2001
Mara of the Acoma is a young noblewoman who lives in a world bound by codes of honor and civility, while greed and brutality drive the wheels of politics. With the aid of her servants and staff, she manipulates the rules of society to gain her ultimate goal: revenge upon Jingu, Lord of the Minwanabi, for murdering her family.
This is the first book I've read by either Feist or Wurts. It came highly recommended, and I was not disappointed. The story unfolds at a fast pace, and there are no loose ends left dangling. The political machinations of Mara are both interesting and clever. The world of the Tsuranni Empire is alien, but familiar in a medieval Asian sort of way. Mara is a likeable character in spite of her merciless motivation. Raised as an aristocrat in a society where class hierarchy is strictly defined and adhered to, she seems loveless and inhumane at times, but her humanity shows through without any need of overt explanation. She is grudgingly willing to risk the lives of others for her cause, but unlike her enemies, she would not wantonly send servants and slaves on kamikaze missions.
It seemed that almost every one of Mara's brilliant manipulations depends upon some law of honor which, at times, is just too convenient for the circumstances. The theme of honorable suicide became somewhat overused. I will refrain from citing examples (that would spoil the plot), but the society of the Tsuranni seems to exaggerate the limits of human honor. Would every single person in any given Empire -- good guys and bad guys -- be completely willing to commit ritual suicide at the drop of a word? Lives are as expendable as candy. Death sentences in general (and murder) are so common that I would think that every citizen of the Empire except for the Emperor and the Warlord would live in constant fear.
Character development and introduction are my other complaint. I realize that this trilogy takes place in a world already defined by a previous series of books, but the authors don't seem to take new readers into account. Aliens and magicians are dropped into the story at random places without warning. Magic plays a major part in the grand finale, but up until that point, I wasn't even aware that magic might exist in Mara's world. The alien species of the cho-ja were introduced just as abruptly, and then whisked away as inconsequential pieces of the plot, although their presence in the background was continuous. Perhaps they'll play a role in the sequel?
I hate to gripe about poor character development. An unfortunate trend in the genres of SF & Fantasy is that characters are often wooden stereotypes, or archetypes with too little personality. Mara of the Acoma has more courage and personality than most heroines in the genre, but the other characters were predictable and hard to like. I never really bonded with Mara. She seems a lonely individual without any expression of that loneliness; intelligent but not fully understanding of the worth of human life, and too willing to put other people through misery to get what she wants. Her servants and her enemies had less personality than that. Although I remained interested in the plot of Daughter of the Empire (what will happen next?), never once was I saddened by a death. And there were plenty of those!
This is a good, fun, quick read, but it's not anything hugely out of the ordinary.