“My father's eyes were steady on my face as I blew out the last bubbles of my breath. I pressed my knife into his hand but he could not make his fingers close around the hilt. I screamed for help with my first lungful of air, and dove again with my second. I was too late.”
The Empress of Timbra follows the interwoven paths of Taver, a fourteen-year-old boy whose world is turned upside down when he finds out that his recently deceased father is not in fact the man who sired him, and Elaku, the eleven-year-old bastard daughter of a nobleman and the seer that has earned the title of “witch” due to her influence on the ruler of Timbra. Their lives are solar opposites, they know their respective places and what is expected of them and are content with it until Taver’s arrival at the court and the revelation that he is a powerful nobleman’s son. Between schemes, pirates, unwanted magic, vicious apprentices and charming traitors, the two siblings navigate the waters of the delicate peace that has been instilled by the Empress of Timbra and are caught in the eye of the coming storm that may raze their lives.
My experience with the Empress of Timbra started off on the wrong foot. During the first chapters, I couldn't shake the notion that the writing was too simplistic, it felt like reading a grocery list. The gap between me and the main characters was huge, everything was flat and dispassionate, there was no spirit, no soul and no life. For example, the way the death of Taver's father was depicted in the first pages was utterly emotionless, as if discussing the weather or a new pair of shoes. I was extremely disheartened. But then something happened.
Perhaps I grew accustomed to the narration, or simply the writing was improved, but as the story unfolded, as I explored the world of Timbra, I was surprised to find myself immersed in the paths of two siblings with nothing in common except from their paternal heritage, and I was eager to find out where their respective paths would lead. The distance I detected in the dreadful first chapters was there, but eventually I didn't mind about it. The authors built an intricate world-building, mixing politics, religion and magic, with a dash of danger and betrayal to spice things up. The dynamics of the palace and the rocky relationship between the two siblings were the book's strongest aspects. Elaku could be irritating at times, but that's to be expected from an eleven-year old, while Taver was more complex, with his pride and stubbornness and difficulty to adapt to a world so different from the village where he grew up. Their interactions and sibling affection were priceless. I also came to like the secondary characters, their passions, ambitions and rivalries stirred the waters and made for an exciting last quarter of first instalment of Hidden Histories.
Personally, I would have liked a little more elaboration on the rules of magic by which the women were forced to abide, contrary to men who had a free reign on their gift, and the distinctions of the worshipped Pantheon, but the truth remains that a) the Empress of Timbra was an enjoyable, intriguing read and b) that the authors produced a decent work which, with a little cultivation, small additions and improvement of the occasional awkwardness in the writing, could become a solid and addictive fantasy novel. I wish the authors all the best in the competition and their future endeavors.