Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Science fiction romance; fantasy romance
Series: Deizian Empire, #2
Length: 279 pages
Date Released: November 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
The fate of the empire hangs on one slave breaking her silence…
As the Deizian Empire prepares for the upcoming wedding of Emperor Titus Sergius Flavus and Azruha, one mystery remains unsolved–the sudden and unexplained death of the former emperor. And as her wedding gift to Titus, Azurha wants to give him answers. She suspects an unknown poison was involved, and her search for the truth enlists two unlikely allies.
Modius Varro’s thirst for knowledge caused an uproar in Emona three years ago and exiled him to the border town of Madrena. But when Titus falls victim to the same poison, his expertise in medicine becomes essential in solving both the riddle of the former emperor’s death and finding a cure to save the current one. His search leads him to far reaches of the Alpirion realm, to an ancient culture shrouded in secrets, and into the arms of one slave who must break her silence to save the empire.
Crista McHugh’s Deizian Empire series reads like a fantasy romance, but there is more than a touch of science fiction lurking deep within the web that she weaves. In this second book in the series, one of those science fictional elements plays a primary role in solving the central dilemma that moves this stage of the overall story, but it still leaves readers with more than enough drama to make us eager for the next book in the series.
The Deizian Empire is not at peace. The young Emperor Titus faces enemies both from without, and from within. As the saying goes, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”.
Titus was supposed to have been a weak emperor, easy to manipulate. Or, he was supposed to have been dead. Unfortunately for his enemies, the assassin that they sent to kill him, fell in love with him instead. Even more unfortunately for his enemies, they actually did pay to send the very best. Their love story is told in the marvelous opener for this series, Tangled Web (reviewed here).
But Titus desire to make a freed slave his Empress has upset even conservative advisors even further, and they were frothing at the mouth already over his plans to free the empire’s slaves. Adding to the ongoing ferment, his consort Azurha has determined that the previous emperor did not die of natural causes; he was poisoned. And as the famous assassin named ‘The Rabbit’, she is an expert on poisons.
The only problem is that Azurha can’t tell which poison did the deed. And that’s where both the science fiction and the romance come into this story.
There are two races in the Deizian Empire. The Deizians and the Alpirions. The Deizians came from another planet and conquered the native Alpirions. It is common medical knowledge that certain medicinal plants cause different reactions depending on which race a person is from. Someone used that knowledge to poison the late Emperor.
Two people are called in to figure out not just what poisoned the emperor, but who did it and how. The emperor’s food was tasted, so whoever did the deed had to be someone who had trusted access to the palace as well as some pretty sophisticated medical knowledge. Along with one hell of a motive.
Only two people can solve this problem before it is too late; Izana and Modius. But they both have terrible secrets that might get them killed before they can finish. Izana is Azurha’s trusted servant, and she knows how to read the ancient Alpirion script that leads to the old secrets, but she is a slave and it is illegal for slaves to be able to read and write.
Modius is a trained healer, but he left the capital in disgrace after he was caught dissecting army corpses after a battle. If they put their skills together, they can find the answer. If the secrets they keep from each other don’t trip them up first.
And they need to figure things out fast, because the new emperor has developed symptoms of the same “illness” that killed his father. Time is running out for everyone.
Escape Rating A-: Poisoned Web is the portrait of the empire in the throes of cataclysmic change. And the thing about change is that most people don’t like it very much, especially the ones who benefit from the status quo.
So much about the Deizian Empire reminds me of the Roman Empire, especially the nastier bits of I, Claudius (without Livia’s machinations, at least so far), that one sees plots and poisoners pretty much everywhere. There are even barbarians at the gates. The gates are maintained by magic, or science, or a combination of the two.
But Titus is changing too much, too fast, and all the Deizians who have their income tied up in slavery don’t want to see the end of their privileges. Of course he has to go. And on the other side, the ones who foment rebellion really aren’t interested in a slow path to change, because they get their kicks from the violence. (This is not to say that the Alpirions shouldn’t be free, but that most of them would not advocate assassinating the emperor who wants to free them as the best way to go about it)
Then there’s the love story. Izana and Modius both have been horribly wounded in their pasts, and have a difficult time trusting anyone. Izana’s road is much more difficult. Modius was terribly disgraced and vilified because of the experiments he was conducting. If the previous Emperor hadn’t gotten him out of town, he might very well have been lynched. But that time has passed.
The secrets Izana is protecting are deadly, not just for her, but for every single person who she reveals to Modius. Her past as a sex slave feels degrading and demeaning, but it is her past alone, at least in context. The network of illegal knowledge about the Alpirions, the network of slaves who can read and write, is death to every single slave that is even tangentially involved in it. While Titus does not seem to be that kind of emperor, he can’t be or he wouldn’t be the center of this series, any corrupt noble could invoke the law and destabilize the regime.
I feel like the series, in addition to having wonderful love stories, also has this epic rise and fall of empires thing in the background, and that’s part of what makes it so marvelous to read.
Crista is kindly giving away a $100 Amazon gift card and 20 autographed print copies of the first book in the series, Tangled Web! To enter for a chance to win, use the Rafflecopter below.