Empire Ascendant is the second book of Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga. I’ll be honest, I can never remember what events take place in the second book of a trilogy, the events always bleed into my memories of the first and third books. But, what I can say about Empire Ascendant, is that it brings in a lot of interesting character development.
For a middle book, there is still a lot of action and lots of different, but important events; however, it still feels like a middle book and my memory of what happened blurs between the boundaries of each book. For me, I enjoyed the introduction to the world and characters in the first book more than I enjoyed this second instalment, despite the increased development of the world and characters.
In this book, we get to see more about the army that is invading from a parallel universe. Because of the rules established in this series, people can not travel between different universes unless their counterpart in the universe is dead or did not exist in the first place. The leader of the army, Kirana, is trying to save her people from their dying world. It is this motivation that compels her throughout the story. She continues to think of herself as good because she is saving her own people and her family even while she is murdering innocent people to do so. I think that Kirana is supposed to be more of a sympathetic character in Empire Ascendant, however, I just really couldn’t get on board with her morality bending.
I know that this is a dark fantasy series, and generally I can look past and even enjoy a lot of grey morality, but something about Kirana’s narrative really rubbed me the wrong way. This is probably one of the reasons that I liked this book the least out of the three. Her character and motivation totally makes sense within the context of how Hurley writes war and the people involved in war, but I really didn’t like that Kirana was a POV characters because she wasn’t someone I wanted to sympathize with.
However, despite my misgivings with Kirana’s character, there was a lot of great character development in Empire Ascendant. I particularly enjoyed Anavha and Zezili’s character growth.
In Empire Ascendant, Anavha is really starting to come into his own – he is moving past someone who is and is willing to be controlled. He is developing his own confidence and understanding of the world, and I think that this kind of character development is really important to see in fiction.
But, I think that it is Zezili goes through the most character growth in this book. She goes from a woman willing to compromise herself for her empress, to making moves toward her belief of what is right even if it means questioning and abandoning her previous loyalties. Her development is really interesting because she too is learning that what she is told to do may not align with what she thinks is right. She starts to take her life into her own hands. This isn’t to say that she becomes a Good Person ™ but her motivations take on deeper meaning and she becomes a more engaging character.
Empire Ascendant is still a story of complex characters, moral greyness, and a heavy helping of gore. Exactly what you would expect of a Hurley novel. Though I enjoyed it less than the first book in the series, I would still recommend it!