Miriam Forster’s Bhinian Empire books are very much a guilty pleasure: simple but engaging story and writing in an imaginative setting. Although extremely easy to follow, it can very often feel like eating a cupcake instead of a dinner – it’ll taste great but be instantly forgotten.
Story: Set before the first book, we’re introduced to brothers Emil and Stefan. They live in a nomadic tribe in a world heavily influenced by one’s caste (picture a mixture of pan-orient characters, from India to China). When Stafan is attacked by a wild tiger and then later chastised for his impulsiveness, he runs away and joins a mercenary troop. Emil follows his twin to bring him back – both ending up in the capitol. Mara, meanwhile, is a shapeshifter running from her past. After she saves Stefan, she goes to the city to find someone to pledge her life to – an atonement for her past sins. There she meets a young noblewoman, Raveshi, and is brought into the inner circle of the royal family. But Raveshi is dealing with her own problems and soon the group will become immersed in a conspiracy with tragic results.
The writing is very accessible and its simplicity makes it a sweet read. Those demanding a bit more depth and nuance will likely be disappointed. But if taken as a Disney animation type of story, where evil are bad and good are great, then it is a pleasant read. Indeed, about half way through this second book (I enjoyed the first in the series as well), I felt like I was reading a novelization of a Disney show, with characters similar to Aladdin (Emil), Baloo (Garen), Jasmine (Raveshi), Shere Kan (aahri), Gaston (Tamas), Belle (Mara). Forster does a good job of distilling characters to a basic sum and not getting caught up over telling her world or creating too many distracting nuances in her characters.
Readers of the first book will enjoy the reappearance of some favorite characters. But for the most part, this does take place before the events of the second book and helps to put them into perspective. There is a little surprise at the end, a reward for those who started with City of a Thousand Dolls.
So yes, although the writing is very simplistic, it is also pleasantly entertaining in a very undemanding way that makes it very accessible to many age groups.
Reviewed from an ARC.