book reviews by Althea

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was – Angélica Gorodischer ****

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Of course, I read this because it was translated by Ursula K. LeGuin.
I can see why she liked it – the book touches on many of the themes that LeGuin deals with in her own work.
As usual (actually, without a known exception) LeGuin will not steer you wrong. (I’ve started buying any book that I see LeGuin has blurbed, and they are ALL good.)

However, although the book is very good, it’s not as good as LeGuin.

The book is a series of stories all set in an imaginary (but rather realistic) ancient empire. It felt slightly Eastern European to me, but others may see it differently. The Empire is thousands of years old, and dynasties have come and gone, so Gorodischer has given herself a wide canvas to work on. The portrayals of the nature of human society, which this book focuses on, are similarly broad and deep. (My one criticism is that while the social and political situations were vivid and dramatic, the characters themselves, to me, were not so memorable.)

The Empire has been ruled by men and women wise and foolish, cruel and just. Those they ruled have also been venal or honest, have succeeded or failed…
The stories are all told as if they were oral narratives, folk stories told by a storyteller in a village square or around a campfire…as such, they have a feeling of mythology, and also create a commentary about how a society is defined by the stories it tells about itself.


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