The Empire of Dreams

HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Apr. 2020. 448p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062691903.
Gr 8 Up–Red Sparkle Stone, the strong-willed and courageous girl from the final book in Carson’s “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” fantasy trilogy, stars in this rousing companion novel. The story moves between past and present as it recounts Red’s horrific childhood and her life now as the 17-year-old ward to Empress Elisa. Denied the opportunity to become Elisa’s imperial adopted daughter, Red becomes the first girl to train for the Royal Guard and endures harassment and worse by male recruits. The Guards training the recruits are men Red doesn’t know from her time living in the palace, and she’s immediately suspicious of them, especially after the captain of the Guard goes missing. Others loyal to the Crown Prince Rosario are being attacked or killed or have disappeared. Red instantly clashes with handsome recruit Iván, the son of a traitor to the empire, even as they are forced to secretly work together to protect Rosario from being assassinated by his enemies. Familiar characters from “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” series appear but remain mostly on the sidelines. Red’s a strong, forthright, and feisty young woman, and her struggle to prove herself among the men while living with post-traumatic stress disorder is sensitively and realistically handled. This fantasy adventure also touches on themes of friendship, forgiveness, fathers’ sins, betrayal, revenge, and resilience.
VERDICT An exciting, satisfying read that will appeal to lovers of “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” or fans of Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series.

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