I generally like Max Gladstone’s writing, and I like this book’s message of community/collaboration, but space opera as a genre is not particularly my thing. The way the characters escape from one dangerous situation straight into another one sometimes leaves me feeling bored; I don’t particularly care about enormous spaceships and epic battles and deadly robots, which this book has in abundance; it also doesn’t help that a major plot point is way too obvious, way too early. That said, this was a pretty fun vacation read: it starts with Vivian Liao, a tech genius who thinks she’s about to be in trouble with a government that isn’t above torturing its enemies, throwing herself a birthday party only to disappear from it. She heads to a server farm in Boston, as planned, and starts running a script that she thinks will self-optimize to solve all sorts of problems. At that point, things go wrong, and Viv finds herself in a different story entirely, one where she has to defeat the Empress of the book’s title, working together with a cast of characters including a monk, a long-imprisoned pirate queen, a woman born to be a pilot, and a matter-devouring shape-shifting monster (who might be my favorite character of all) to save the galaxy from the Empress’s tyranny. Like I said: not particularly my thing, but I didn’t consider abandoning it, and I like the book’s sense of humor and heart.

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