Review: Empress & Soldier by Marian L. Thorpe

Empress & Soldier by Marian L. Thorpe

Bjørn shares his thoughts about Empress & Soldier, Marian L. Thorpe‘s latest standalone Historical Fantasy novel, set in the same world as her Empire’s Legacy series.

Disclaimer: I was the one who pestered demanded inspired the author to write this book, and served as an expert reader. This is not a review and I will not be scoring the book.

About the Book
Series: standalone in the Empire’s Legacy seriesGenre: Historical Fantasy, Alternative History
Date of Publishing: December 13, 2022Trigger Warnings: infanticide. assassination. BDSM (not graphic)
Page count: 394Publisher: Arboretum Press
Book Blurb
Empress & Soldier by Marian L. Thorpe

A boy of the night-time streets. A girl of libraries and learning.

Druisius, the son of a merchant, is sixteen when an order from his father that he can neither forgive nor forget drives him from home and into the danger and intrigue of the military.

Eudekia, a scholar’s daughter, educated and dutiful, is not meant to be a prince’s bride. In an empire at war, and in a city beset by famine and unrest, she must prove herself worthy of its throne.

A decade after a first, brief meeting, their lives intersect again. When a delegation arrives from the lost West, asking Eudekia for sanctuary for a princess and support for a desperate war, Druisius is assigned to guard them. In the span of a few weeks, a young captain will capture the hearts of both Empress and soldier in very different ways, offering a future neither could have foreseen.

A stand-alone novel that can also serve as a second entry point into the Empire’s Legacy series.


Marian L. Thorpe’s style, honed over the years, evolved from fantasy-without-magic to literary fiction set in alternative world based on Roman and post-Roman history. Empire’s Heir, her previous book (fifth in the Empire’s Legacy series) reminds me of a Swiss watch. Everything is where it should be and as it should be, precise and elegant, well-groomed, golden. When you open Empress & Soldier you can immediately tell…

…that it’s going to be different.

Well, half of it.

I have written a book with two protagonists myself. One of the hardest parts was creating two voices unique enough that within a few paragraphs you’d know who’s speaking. Thorpe needs a sentence, maybe two if they’re short. The titular Empress, Eudekia, and the soldier – Druise, don’t seem to have anything in common. One lives in the dead of night, his domain – dark streets, inns, the battlefield. The other, constantly under a spotlight, navigates a battlefield of very different sort, where some believe women don’t belong. One gets by, not afraid to get his hands dirty, or bloodied. The other, elevated way above her wildest dreams and nightmares, commands an Empire.

What are those people even doing in one book?


Empress & Soldier works both as a standalone and a companion book to the Empire’s Legacy series. It’s going to be polarising both to fans and newbies. Imagine reading two books, their authors unable to agree even how grammar works, not to mention the style. With two watches on your wrists, both equally precise, can you appreciate the rust and scratches as well as the polished gold – or the other way round?

One of the early readers described Druise as “a thug and a rent boy.” On a very superficial level, this description is correct. Similarly, Eudekia could be described as cold and calculating, interested in nothing but power. One of them fucks men for information, then sometimes kills them – the other simultaneously desires somebody else’s man and uses her knowledge to blackmail him and those he loves. Their emotional range seems stilted, and it must be, because for Druisius and Eudekia alike love, friendship, and grief have consequences. As my first therapist told me, though, you can’t simply decide not to have feelings.

“Druisius is a man now,” his father says, after forcing his sixteen year old son to do something so cruel and painful – yet necessary in the world they live in – that the wound inside the man/boy will fester forever. Many of us know this sort of pain. There are things that can lighten or lift the burden for a while, but never forever, never enough. “I can forget, except one thing. I am a man,” Druise tells himself when he finds his temporary release. Feelings make you vulnerable; they make you hurt inside, think, question yourself. But Druisius is a man. He knows men. Men are thugs. Men are soldiers. Druise learns quick. 

A soldier’s job is not to think or feel. There are orders to fulfil, from their fathers, then their superiors. When there is too much life for you to handle, it’s a relief to be told what to do. As both the demands and times of escape keep escalating, becoming more and more extreme, what was unthinkable a year earlier becomes the new normal. Complex PTSD alters brain patterns on the lowest level of subconsciousness, the same one that’s responsible for breathing or having a heartbeat without needing to think about it. The guilt that never goes away deepens those paths. “Sorley is just one more,” Druise tells himself, and when the thought “or maybe he is not” follows, it’s not welcome. If you don’t love, it hurts less when you lose, yes?


Eudekia has no coping mechanism, healthy or not, no way to escape. Her choices must be made rationally, all of them, as she is watched very closely by those who would love nothing more than a smallest mistake. An Empress doesn’t have the power to stroll around having feelings; women don’t belong in positions of power, some think, they’re too emotional (sounds familiar?), irrational. Even her choice of attire matters – should she appear an untouchable Goddess, or make herself more relatable? If she feels an advisor is not to be trusted, is that correct gut instinct or those dreaded feelings that ruin everything?

“I didn’t run, because Empresses didn’t,” she thinks – forces herself – when she loses a loved one, and this might be the most powerful and painful sentence in the book. She allows herself one hour of grief – one hour of caprice, weakness, an hour wasted. What follows is the official mourning period. This one lasts nine days and includes “funerary games,” where she has to be seen, between endless hours of attending to her duties. It’s better if nobody finds out she wasted that hour. Sharp blades that wait to taste a soft throat do their job equally well when the handle is encrusted with diamonds, rather than wood.

As the book progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that being an Empress and a soldier isn’t all that different, even if one sleeps in a warm, empty bed, and the other only gets that comfort when someone wants him to. Power limits possibilities. When a proud princess in search of sanctuary asks Eudekia to pick her a suitable husband, both know the choice will not have much to do with mutual attraction. Eudekia’s own husband allowed his desires to overpower his rational mind. Side effects of love include death. Empresses send soldiers to death, but sometimes soldiers switch loyalties.


Thorpe is a master of telling, not showing. There is almost nothing graphic on the pages, letting the reader’s imagination fill the gaps. To the best of my knowledge I have never been an Emperor or a soldier, but I know why Druise goes into the night and what he hopes to find there. I know what it feels like when you’re desperate to be yourself and know it would amount to self-harm. Certain things are universal, yes? Or is it possible to live a life so safe and sheltered that you can run when Empresses can’t and live without a single regret?

Eudekia’s position forces her to live under constant surveillance, watched by a maid in the most private situations. It isn’t prudent for the Empress to have “private situations” without approval by committee or skip the funerary games. For Druise, the balance between life and death is so delicate that being seen or noticed, even just once, can push him off the very same tightrope. When you’re dead, you don’t care how many mourn you, at least where they can be seen, and for how long. The thug and the sovereign do what they must, yes? Sometimes watches break, or get broken.

I wonder what those who disdain the enigmatic Empress they’ve met in the previous Empire’s Legacy books will think. “I did not like the Empress – this is cruel!” says one of the reviews of Thorpe’s earlier book. Will they be able see the girl who read too much? What about warm, kind, self-defeating Druise, willing – sometimes eager – to sacrifice his happiness for others? Thorpe doesn’t bother figuring out what a jugular is, she aims straight for the heart. Her arrow doesn’t pierce, though. It digs its way in. Slowly, deliberately, and, yes, elegantly.

Empress & Soldier can also be read as a standalone. Can you sympathise with a man whose boots are always stained with blood? Hate the girl that read too much, found out that books have consequences, and that the more company you have, the lonelier it gets? 

At the end of the book, the unlikely pair makes a bittersweet pact, laying down the rules for the games that were played in the previous books. Those games can’t be won. The best outcome possible is not losing more than you’ve already paid and will keep paying, cards always close to your chest, hoping the rules remain unknown to those who don’t know they’re playing. Some games are played for mortal stakes. Sometimes even that might be the preferred outcome.

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