Review: Empress of the World

Title: Empress of the World
Author: Sara Ryan
Publisher: Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group
Genre: young adult, mainstream fiction, romance, queer

In Their Words:
Nicola Lancaster is spending the summer at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth–a hothouse of smart, articulate, intense teenagers living like college students for eight weeks. Nic’s had theater friends and orchestra friends, but never just friend friends. And she’s certainly never had a relationship. But on the very first day, she falls in with Katrina the Manic Computer Chick, Isaac the Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself, Kevin the Inarticulate Composer…and Battle. Battle Hall Davies is a beautiful blonde dancer from North Carolina. She’s everything Nic isn’t. Soon the two are friends–and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you’re attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart?

In Mine:
As I’ve said before, I have touble finding really good queer/LGBTQ fiction, but Empress of the World is definately one of my favorites. It’s also one of the few books I’ve found with a realistic main character who happens to be bisexual, instead of outright lesbian. Most bi characters out there fall prey to stereotypes or simply being comic relief, so it’s nice to see an honest portrayal.

I love both the main characters. Neither Nic nor Battle is a walking stereotype, and they’re both dealing with their own issues–which mostly don’t involve the fact that they’re not as straight as they might have thought. In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about Empress. This isn’t a “omg I’m GAY” book, it’s simply about growing up and figuring out what you want to do with your life, and what kind of person you want to be. Even the side characters (particularly Katrina and Isaac) are really well-developed and interesting.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sara Ryan twice; once at a conference when I attended her workshop on writing young adult books, and the later when she came to speak to the YA class I’m assistant-teaching this term. Both instances were truly a pleasure; she’s a great speaker, and she really knows her industry. I’m eagerly awaiting her future projects.

I really like the cover. It says Romance without being too overt and girly about it, and it’s just a really sweet image. The interior is nice too, since part of Nic’s narrative is told through her journal/notes, and this is portrayed really well visually, without breaking with the flow of the narrative.

Final Rating:
5/5 All the things a queer romance/coming-of-age story should be.

About Lucy

If you want to get fancy, Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and has a MA in Writing/Book Publishing, with a focus on Young Adult Literature, and a heaping disregard for literary snobbishness (she was an English Major–she’s seen and spouted her fair share). She works as a social media marketer, and has dabbled in developmental editing as a freelancer.
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