As Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever starts out, it’s set in the very near future, and we’re following around a tech executive doing the same kind of stuff they might be doing in a Neal Stephenson book.

But very quickly, it becomes a different type of book entirely, as she’s pulled into a far-future ultra-science universe, in a way that reminds me of Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky. But that’s about the only way this is like an Asimov book—beyond that, it’s more like Vance than Asimov, as it’s set in an inventive galaxy full of strange and ancient cultures (apparently inspired greatly by Journey to the West, which I’ve never read).

This being Gladstone, you can be sure that there’s a way in which this is a lens into modernity, and here I think is the weakest aspect of the book. Because what he’s doing is taking this techbro (well, techsis, anyway) and looking at how her personality traits have driven her to success… but also at how in doing so, they’ve caused larger societal problems. It’s not a particularly subtle critique, and it comes off a bit ham-handed in the plot as well. I much prefer the more organic ways that the Craft novels work their relevance into the fabric of their world-building.

Overall, this is an enjoyable adventure novel in an inventive SF setting. I enjoyed it, and if there’s a sequel, I’ll be reading it quickly. But it also feels like Gladstone’s weakest novel, by a good bit. Recommended, but if you haven’t read his Craft novels, read those first.


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