Unexpectedly, I finished one more book before the new year: The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard. I didn’t think I’d finish this one so soon, but a few things lined up:
- Time off for the holidays
- I got sucked into the story far more than I expected
- I hit a point in No Man’s Sky that’s 90% loading screens and maps, so I fell into a pattern of reading while the loading screens loaded*
I had no idea what to expect, going into this one. It’s one of r/cozyfantasy’s regular recommendations — probably on the top ten — and all I knew was “story about a bureaucrat who wants to make the world a better place.”
Yep. It’s that. It’s also about colonialism/imperialism, cultural assimilation, and good governance, has excellent characterization, and worldbuilds without tiresomely explaining Magic Systems(tm) at the audience.
It’s also not cozy, in my opinion. I admit, I have developed a fairly restrictive impression of “cozy” from the community: “takes place in a cottage in the forest, there’s a lot of tea, there are no world-destroying stakes, and NO BAD OR CHALLENGING EMOTIONS EVER, OR HEADS WILL ROLL.” I don’t mean this to be denigrating. Cozy mystery has a long and successful history. It’s just that, but with magic. Magic, She Wrote.
There are a lot of emotions in this story, despite/because of the fact that it’s about an outwardly starchy bureaucrat. Few of the emotions are fluffy or easy. And though the day-to-day focus of the story is on one character and most of the story takes place in two general locations, it very much has ramifications about the larger story-world. That’s… a big part of the point. Making the world a better place.
So I’m kind of surprised that this community latched onto this book, but I am very glad they did, because I rabidly enjoyed it. I finished the first book on Christmas Day and started the second shortly after. (I did not figure out the twist at the beginning of the second book until… maybe 75% of the way through the first? This is why I don’t read mysteries)
There is a long stretch that basically boils down to Kip Tells Off Some Naysayer, Everybody Clapped, which…. eh, but it’s capped off with a set piece that I absolutely loved at the end, so it didn’t break the book for me.
Anyway, consider this a recommendation.
NMS elaboration (Spoilers)