Thursday, 26 April 2012

Book Review and Author Interview: The Weeping Empress by Sadie S. Forsythe

The Weeping Empress
by Sadie S. Forsythe

Published: 2011
Publisher: Self- Published
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Pages: 242

Cover Art

The cover is not astonishing, but it is simple,  has a really nice font, and I think it conveys the Japanese influences in the book rather well. It is definitely one of the best self-published covers I've seen too.

Plot Synopsis

Chiyo Alglaeca was happy in her life. As a wife and mother, she was contented with normality. That is, until it was all taken away and she wakes up in an unknown world battling for her life amongst complete strangers. Forced into notoriety, stalked by a mysterious cult, hunted by the emperor, and facing betrayal at every turn she clings to the only safety she can find: two enigmatic men and the sharp bringer of death, her samurai sword Salvation. 

My Rating:

First Line:
'Chiyo opened her eyes and looked up at the crisp blue sky.'  

Pocket-Size Review
A lot of book bloggers refuse to review self-published novels - this book proves what a mistake that is. It defies genre classification and is a thought-provoking, violent journey for the reader as well as the woman at its centre.

Highs: The characters are brilliant. You are really with Chiyo every step of the way. The Japanese influences and fight scenes are also awesome.
Lows: Some more world building would have been good. I would have also liked the Emperor to be more threatening and villainous!


This book is self-published but don't let that put you off. If you like martial arts, epic journeys, fantasy, anime and manga then you should definitely check it out. It brings it. It brings all the blood. 

Chiyo is a ruthless killer. But she didn't used to be. She used to be a mother, a wife, presumably a friend, living in, we assume, surburbia. From what she describes, she was comfortable and happy. However, this book starts when she is thrown out of that world and lands in an unforgiving new one where she is being rounded up like cattle by armed men who could have who-knows-what intentions. Even though she has no idea where she is, or how she came to be there, she fights these men as she has never fought before: for survival. And she never stops. It's like Kill Bill in here.

I really loved Chiyo. She is weak and vulnerable at the beginning, but after a bit of roughing up and asamurai sword training montage she is soon equipped to slash through soldiers with the best of them. Muhjah and Senka are the men she travels with who train her up, and they are very well-developed characters. Each has distinctive traits and they feel dangerous and unpredictable in their own ways. Senka in particular, with his silent approach and fierce loyalty, feels both a threat towards Chiyo while also being her best hope of safety.

The plot really makes you think. You put yourself in Chiyo's shoes and wonder how you would react; how could you cope knowing you had been ruthlessly torn away from everything you've ever known for no particular reason? And now you're being hunted by people you don't know or care about? The emperor wants to capture Chiyo because word has gotten around about this new stranger who is fighting her way through his men and people are whispering about her potentially becoming a new Goddess (their previous Goddess abandoned them some time before).  Chiyo fits the prophecy for the new Right Arm of the Goddess and so she is suddenly becoming revered for something she knows nothing about. Chiyo doesn't care about any of this. She just wants to go home. I loved that about her; none of it ever goes to her head or fazes her- she knows who she was and violence is the only way she can stop herself crumbling because of it. She doesn't care about these people in this world or saving anyone from anything- she is no hero. She isn't moral or doing anything for the 'right reasons' because she has no reason to love this world that she was so cruelly flung into. She wants to get out of there and, if that's not possible, live the simultaneously violent and peaceful life she has acquired with Muhjah and Senka. 

There is something beautiful about the way Chiyo finds that to completely block the memories of her previously cosy, motherly, nurturing life is to embrace the opposite; a bloody, ruthless, merciless one where killing provides joy. She becomes the best she can be, physically, at one point realising that she is no longer 'voluptous' and is instead 'all angles', there is no longer anything 'soft' about her- neither physically or mentally- no vulnerability or fear left at all. How could she have got there cradling babies and doing the washing?

There were only a few downsides to this book. One was, I felt, the lack of world-building. I can understand why Forsythe has done this, because it makes the landscape even more anonymous and disorientating and we as readers are put in the same position as Chiyo in terms of not having a clue where we are! But I like descriptions and details, and I would have liked to be able to envision things better. I also would have liked the Emperor, who sits up in his tower like an ineffective pig waiting to be slaughtered, to have been more evil and more involved in the story. He does order some pretty horrific things to be done to Chiyo, but I was still never really afraid of HIM. I feel like if I had been it would've added a whole other layer to the story.

Overall, I really liked this story. It was very original, and had a badass sword-wielding female protagonist who unleashes her inner beast. I am so excited for the sequel, as I am told her family from her old life enter the picture. Will she be able to reign in the beast? I'm not sure if she can...I hear once you get a taste for blood you don't go back.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: More manga. I actually got a big book of it today!
Three Words to Describe this Book: Bad-ass, Gorey, Fantasy

Interview with the Author: Sadie S. Forsythe

Name: Sadie S. Forsythe

  • 'The Weeping Empress' is her first novel and is, 'an epic fantasy with YA crossover appeal'
  • She is an author, perpetual grad student, wife, mother, would be aikidoka, wishful world traveler, over-aged manga addict, nail biter, 日本語のがくせい, occasional beader, passionate reader, internet dependent, American woman in her mid-thirties. 
  • She  spent seven years investigating allegations of abuse and neglect with the Missouri and Florida Departments of Children and Families.
  • She now lives just outside Manchester in England and pretends she doesn't miss Tennessee. 
  • Her favourite quote is:  'There is pleasure sure in being mad which none but madmen know' by John Dryden.
The Interview
I ask Sadie about her Japanese/manga influences, her hatred of 'princessing' little girls and why she choose a woman as her main character....

1. If you had to sum up 'The Weeping Empress', how would you describe it?

It is one woman’s attempt to cope with her untenable situation and another's attempt to foster a sense of empowerment in her children. These are not, necessarily, two goals that fit well together.

2. What inspired you to write a book set in a world like the one Chiyo finds herself in? How did you envision it?

For me, the environment evolved around Chiyo, Senka and Muhjah. It became what it needed to be for their sake. The three of them are so sharply focused on that I let the background fade out a bit.

3. If you found yourself in Chiyo's position, alone, completely unaware of your surroundings, and with no way out how would you react? Would you fight or submit? Would you deal with it or go mad?

It would depend. If I was truly alone I think I would just curl up in a ball and fall apart. Chiyo isn't actually alone though. She was offered an opportunity to make a choice, even if she doesn’t acknowledge (or even realize) it. Had that option not presented itself her experience in Dashkalil, no doubt, would have been very different. In her shoes I think I would have done the same...but I'd probably go a little mad too.

4. Did you ever consider writing a romantic interest into Chiyo's journey?

No, absolutely not. She’s an adult woman with needs that need satisfying, but falling in love would be too much of a betrayal to her family—not just her husband, but everything that their fragile memory has come to mean to her.

5. There is a lot about faith and people losing faith in this book. Is that based on any personal experiences?

Not particularly, or at least not in the sense that I’ve lost any faith. My family didn’t practice any religion when I was growing up, so I was always curious about it. I even took a minor in Comparative Religion just to satisfy that curiosity. I think that has allowed me to look on the subject with a certain amount of equanimity. Faith is incredibly powerful and can be effectively mobilized for the betterment of all, but if too many generations follow it blindly it stagnates. Like science or literature it needs to be allowed to grow and evolve in order to bloom.

6. You have said previously that you have drawn influences from Japan; in particular Japanese art, martial arts, anime and manga. Any in particular?

I used to do Aikido. I really like the whole idea of entering a fight with the objective of both defending yourself and protecting your attacker. It's also where I learned about katana. I hope to return to it one day. I really appreciate the Japanese concept of honor and duty too. I think that we, in the West, live a very ME centered way of life, and I like the idea of having something important enough to choose death for. Obviously, the Japanese culture isn't the only one to idealize this, but the way it is depicted in manga/anime and Japanese literature really strikes a chord with me.

7. I read in a previous interview that you said your favourite characters were goofy men who were heroic underneath ala Superman! What made you go with a woman as a main character in this book?

Since we were just talking about manga, a better example than Superman would be Abel Nightroad from Trinity Blood or Vash the Stampede from Trigun. I do love these merry men carrying their heavy burdens. Only the exceptionally strong would have no need for an ostensive display of power. Overt displays of one's physical prowess (bulging muscles, a fierce countenance, etc) are a means of discouraging confrontation. If you have no chance of losing in a fight there is not need to discourage attackers.

As to why a female lead character: I always begin by imagining my main characters’ experiences in the first person. It was inevitable that Chiyo would be a woman since that's what I am.

8. Why did you decide Chiyo should travel with two men? What do you think Senka and Muhjah bring to the novel?

I think the story needed the male influence. Chiyo's transformation from happy homemaker to brutal hunter wouldn't have been believable without their yang influence. They each individually bring something different to the novel, and I think that together they bring something as well. Senka's quite strength and loyalty is something Chiyo couldn't do without, and Muhjah's brash decision-making enables the other two to fly unfettered. In a sense I feel that Chiyo's task and sacrifice is so big that it takes both Senka and Muhjah to support her through it (and close off any escape from it).

9. Chiyo has no time for pretty dresses and femininity in her violent world. You have said that the 'princessing' of little girls terrifies you. Why is this?

Because princesses, or at least princesses as they are currently idolized, don’t do anything of substance. They wear pretty dresses and narcissistically demand attention, but they have no volition beyond attracting their prince. If you think about it, even the prince’s love-at-first-sight is often based on the princess’ pure heart, beauty, or…small feet. These are all things the princess has no control over. It teaches girls that if they are beautiful, docile dolls their prince will come and give their lives meaning. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White make it exceptionally apparent. They are asleep, literally inert until the prince comes for them. It's also why the princes are so characterless. His character only matters if the princess is expected to make a choice based on it, but she isn't. She is expected to simply accept the prince that comes for her.

If little girls wanted to be queen I could at least console myself with the knowledge that the queen maintains a position of authority, but fairytale queens are often evil—a subtle reminder that good girls know their place and it isn’t in control. Power will apparently only turn little girls into jealous harpies. Princesses are forever infantilized and dependent.

Some of the modern incarnations of these stories are as bad as the originals, but it should be remembered that a lot of them are hold-overs from a far more paternalistic and repressive time. It can’t be a good thing to continue to raise little girls with no concept of agency or efficacy. Why teach them to wait patiently for their prince to come instead of to go out and grasp their destiny, even if it is a prince? It's a matter of action.

10. Will there be a sequel? If so, can you give me any hints as to what it will be about/ if any of the characters will be returning?!

There will be a sequel. It will address three things: why Chiyo, how Chiyo got to Dashkalil, and what happened to Chiyo and the Sacerdotisa after the end of The Weeping Empress [sorry no spoilers]. Senka and Muhjah will be in it of course, plus Michael and Hannah will play a much larger role.

Finally, The Big Three...

1. Sum the book up in three words.

I hope: fierce, evocative, and epic.

2. Name your three favourite books

Dune, Interview with a Vampire, The Stand

3. Name your three favourite authors
I hate this question. My favorites change from time to time, but usually on the list somewhere are P.D. James, Anne Rice, and Catherynne Valente.

The Weeping Empress is available to buy here:

Thanks Sadie! You have made me really think about princesses and how inactive they are towards their own lives, and I can't wait for the sequel to 'The Weeping Empress'. I want to know more about Chiyo's past life so it sounds perfect!


  1. Thanks Anna, and Sadie for the interesting interview and review. The Weeping Empress sounds really interesting. I'm not usually into gore, but there are some exceptions and I like the comparison with Kill Bill.

  2. Anna, thank you for your hard work. This looks wonderful and I had a lot of fun with it.

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