Empire of Night by Kelley ArmstrongEmpire of Night by Kelley Armstrong (Age of Legends #2)

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins on April 7, 2015

Source: Purchased

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Sisters Moria and Ashyn are the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood. Or at least, they were.View Spoiler »

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The above combination of review graphics (fantasy, badass, and swoon) are my version of the bookish trifecta. Give me badass ladies kicking ass, using magic, and making out and I will be one happy reader. So imagine my delight when Kelley Armstrong’s EMPIRE OF NIGHT gave me all three! Since this is the second book in the series, I won’t talk about the plot at all to avoid spoilers. This review mostly concerns itself with world building and characters.

As Keeper and Seeker, Moria and Ashyn occupy a sacred and revered position within the Empire. Their ability to communicate with and help spirits cross to the other side is a powerful one, especially in a society that venerates ancestry and recognizes the presence of spirit in all living things. But they have come to learn that not everyone is happy with the status qu0 in the Empire – and those people are willing to anger the spirits in the name of change…and power.

When I read the first book in this series last year I wasn’t as impressed it as I was hoping to be. The Age of Legends series is Kelley Armstrong’s first foray into pure fantasy and honestly? It showed. While I loved the characters and the relationships between them (especially twins Moria and Ashyn), the world building in book one left a lot to be desired. So I was concerned that world building would continue to be a stumbling block for EMPIRE OF NIGHT, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This second book in the trilogy is leaps and bounds more sophisticated than the first.

The world in EMPIRE OF NIGHT is clearly rooted in feudal Japan; with last names like Kitsune, Okami, and Tatsu, it’s kind of difficult not to make the connection. But EMPIRE OF NIGHT makes the Japanese and Pan-Asian influences more explicit by clearly incorporating elements of the Samurai Code, the importance of honour, and filial piety into life in the Empire. This is one of the few YA fantasy series I’ve read where the protagonists are white – and they are in the racial minority. All of the major players aside from Moria and Ashyn are people of colour, with the majority of the Empire’s population described as having the skin tone and almond-shaped eyes associated with East Asian people. As Northerners of the Empire, Moria and Ashyn are actually stereotyped as unintelligent and uncultured…and some people even stoop so far as to fetishize their ethnicity. I see what you did there, Kelley Armstrong! And I dig it. No one ever said that a YA fantasy trilogy couldn’t incorporate social commentary.

I’m not as invested in Ashyn’s storyline as I am in Moria’s, but I think that has less to do with Ashyn as a character and more with Armstrong’s focus on Moria’s adventures. We spend more time in Moria’s head than we do in Ashyn’s, so I haven’t developed the same love for her that I have for Moria. That said, I love that Ashyn is an atypical YA heroine: she’s reserved, bookish, and even a little bit prim. She’s quite the contrast to her rough-and-tumble, kiss-the-boys-and-make-them-cry sister, and at first I didn’t know what to make of her. EMPIRE OF NIGHT sees Ashyn come into her own and stepping out of Moria’s shadow a bit, becoming more confident in both her intelligence and her fledgling self-defence skills. Ashyn is proof that a “strong female character” doesn’t have to be brash and physical; her strength comes from her mind and her willingness to defend herself, her sister, and her beliefs. #GirlPower

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the romance in EMPIRE OF NIGHT, since it’s important for the series and completely friggin’ adorable. A love triangle emerges between Moria and two dudes who are both equally awesome, both equally hot, and both are an equally good fit for her. Lucky girl! I’ve read enough Kelley Armstrong to be confident in who Moria will end up with, but I can honestly say that I would be happy if she got with either guy. Poor Ashyn’s romantic situation looks bleak, but I have to give her major kudos for how maturely she handles everything. She clearly and calmly tells dudes when they’re being jerkfaces and doesn’t put up with their crap. Obviously Ashyn has grown on me and I can definitely see her becoming equally as awesome as Moria in the series finale. I can’t wait to see how it all goes down!

What is your favourite middle book in a trilogy? How do you feel about atypical YA heroines? And what are your thoughts on racial diversity in SFF?