Title: The Last Imperator (The Rebirth Saga #2)
Author: M.L. Tishner
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: Rei has taken her place as the god queen and strives to peacefully end the divide between the Dominion and the Federation, but the leader of the Dominion, once Rei’s prior life’s husband, is determined to have his bride by his side no matter what body she’s in.
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the first book, The God Queen. I thought it was a fascinating mix of science fiction and fantasy with reincarnated gods with powers and space travel. It also had the most lovely romance I’ve ever read (which remains true to this day). It was difficult to forget the first book, and I checked now and then for when the second book would be released, so I was thrilled to hear from Tishner with a review request! The Last Imperator doesn’t pick up right after the events of the last book, but it quickly clues in the reader and just throws the characters into the frying pan, so to speak.
The Last Imperator, as the second book in the Rebirth Saga, does not disappoint. It quickly catches the reader up and advances the plot. It feels like an interesting mix of Star Wars and anime. Many elements felt like they’d been borrowed and twisted from the former to better fit the story Tishner is telling, while some of the more dramatic character interactions and internal thoughts felt more like the little anime I’ve been exposed to. Overall, The Last Imperator is a wonderful science fiction/fantasy read that can please both kinds of readers without resorting to confusing info dumps. The focus is on the story and how the characters force each others’ hands with manipulation and prophecies having a heavy hand.
There are two factions struggling for control: the Dominion led by Anekris Praymer and the Federation led by the god king, Manden, and queen, Rei. With the Federation working hard to gain ground in the elections to take power from the Dominion, a new group called the Path have arisen, threatening both factions.
Rei and Manden have taken their places in the spotlight as the god king and queen, reincarnations of powerful Volocio who died years before. Rei is also a member of the powerful Ettowa family, which means some members favor the Dominion and others the Federation, but whoever can offer the most power and influence is the winner.
In an attempt to show Praymer and Rei are willing to work together to stop the Path and forge peace, Praymer is an invited guest at Rei’s cousin’s wedding. The Path sees it as the perfect opportunity to attack both sides at the same time, hurtling Rei and everyone else straight into the arms of their rescuer, Praymer, and onto a ship where tensions run high and many things may not be as they seem.
It didn’t hit me during the first book, but The Last Imperator feels like a mix of Star Wars and anime. I’m not at all versed in anime, but the little I’ve found myself exposed to kept ringing in my head while I was reading this book. Otherwise it was easy to see the parallels with Star Wars. I’m not a Star Wars fan, either, but still really enjoyed this book. Unlike The God Queen, which felt more plot driven, this one was a little more character driven. Things heat up really fast and the characters just seemed to take on a life of their own. The setup is finished, so now they can step onto center stage, and do they!
The Last Imperator is told through the perspectives of Rei, her lover Bronx, and Rei’s younger brother Arram. It was wonderful to see the various events through all of their eyes since they saw things differently and the same. The rest of the characters, while a little confusing when it came to keeping their past lives straight, were easy to remember and differentiate. They all had their own distinct personalities, though I did mix up some of the familial relationships a little. Still, I really enjoyed how they worked together and how their reactions and treatment of each other helped drive the story forward.
As the god queen, I found Rei to be the most interesting. She has a fascinating lightning power that she revels in and uses with stunning force. But she’s also a force to be reckoned with. She never really felt reckless and didn’t jump into danger and trouble, but she, her decisions, and behaviors really guided the story. I loved how hard she tried to do things peacefully and how she remained firm in her beliefs and the Federation. While several characters tried to use her and manipulate her, she remained strong and steadfast and something of a pillar to support the story.
Bronx was an interesting character. He’s connected to Rei in more than one way, and it’s so clear to see how much he loves her and will do anything for her. Their relationship is sweet and beautiful. But his anxiety about being away from here felt a little too much. He was so wrapped up in being Rei’s other half that sometimes his characterization felt washed away and he was there to either be her support or do the things only he could do to advance the story.
Arram twisted my insides with how much I felt for him. He’s constantly shoved to the side. He felt a little too fixated on that fact, though it made everything else that happened to him completely understandable. The way some of the other characters used him because of his vulnerability made my heart ache so much, but, at other times, I just wanted to slap some sense into him. He tries so hard, so my heart really went out to him throughout the book.
Like in the first book, the reader doesn’t have to wait forever for revelations and truths. They trickle in and trigger new things happening and eyes being opened so more steps can be taken. I loved not having to wait and wait and wait, and really felt it helped move the story along. It does move quickly, but there’s a lot going on and a lot of ground that needs to be covered. It does mirror Star Wars a lot, which makes it somewhat predictable, but there are a lot of other really good things happening, like further reveals of the history between the characters and their past lives and the clash of ideologies. There’s also special care taken for discussing mental health and whether or not a specific diagnosis is real. I appreciated that it was handled with care and how both sides of how people feel about it was presented.
The Last Imperator doesn’t feel like a good vs. evil, or dark vs. light, story. It’s a battle of ideologies, but is more than that. While the people may be fighting over what everyone believes in, the characters are caught up in a different kind of battle, something of a past vs. present. With reincarnation, things get muddied quickly. There are characters who were never reincarnated, who are still their original self, and others who are, who have a fresh new take on life. The clash between past and present is clear as day as the characters interact, as they take previous lives into account, and fight to pull away from the past some characters long to relive in order to shape their new present.
The Last Imperator is a quick science fiction read where the planets they visit feel familiar and the characters really step to the forefront. The story is constantly moving and the characters are always manipulating and planning ten steps ahead. Sometimes it felt like a dizzying ride because they plan so far ahead, but it was wonderful to see it all play out.
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Thank you to M.L. Tishner for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.