Publication Date: 26th May 2003
I should probably start of by saying that I borrowed Empress of the World from my local library, although I had seen it in there previously. The first time I saw it was a good couple of years ago, after reading the blurb I instantly put it back – Why you may ask. Because in my younger and more vulnerable years I was an idiot. I didn’t read many ‘issue’ books, especially about sexuality because at 13, I was stupid and thought that by reading something about lesbian/bisexual characters I would somehow become one. I got over that not that long after I saw this book, but hadn’t seen it until now. So if you are one of those people who don’t want to read this because of the sexuality of the characters, just read it and you’ll find an amazing story about self – discovery.
So after I got over the humiliation/embarrassment of my younger self I quickly devoured Empress of the World, it’s just over 200 pages which just flies by. I loved how Nicola’s ‘field notes’ were interspersed throughout the story, which added another dimension to what she was thinking/feeling.
The characters! They were felt so real – I know that gets said A LOT, but it is true. They weren’t perfect, they got on your nerves sometimes but after another couple of pages were making you smile and laugh (And by laugh and smile I mean that literally, there were so many scenes that were hilarious and I loved the frequent use of topical references and humour) Making them all feel like real friends. They were also diverse and I couldn't help but love them all; Battle, Isaac, Katrina and of course Nicola all brought something different to the story and I also liked how they were kind of a band of outcasts.
Another thing that felt real was Pruncher Hall, where the story takes place. I love how different places represented different things, like the hill and the lake – I also liked how most of the emotional scenes took place outside, how when the characters were out in nature they were able to show their true selves.
Another theme, besides nature, that I loved was the wheel of fortune, which was pretty apt for most of the ups and downs of the story. I also loved Battle’s mantra of ‘words don’t always work’ which I find incredibly true.
With all of these things Empress of the World reminded me of another of my favourite books – Looking for Alaska by John Green. Not only because it’s set in a boarding summer school but because of how real it feels, how similar I find Pudge and Nicola’s narration and how they both idolise these people, Alaska and Battle (who both have unique names) respectively and can’t believe when they accept them. I think it’s the realism and realistic voice that reminds me of Looking for Alaska, so if you’re a fan I definitely think you’ll like this book.
The plot, whilst more emotionally driven was enjoyable, and you may be sitting here thinking that it’s an ‘issue book’ but it wasn't. It was simply Nicola discovery of who she was and being open to the idea that she could be more than one thing. I also loved how instead of making it about choosing what sexuality you identify as it was more about getting rid of labels – anti – labelling and pro – individuality.
My only problem with the story was the use of the term of ‘dyke’ not only is it a derogatory term but I just don’t like the word in of itself. Also, probably the biggest issue I had, maybe this is just because I’m English but I’ve never heard someone called that. Being in high school I’ve obviously seen many people labelled or assumed as being a lesbian but they’ve only been called gay. So every time I read it, not only did it make me angry, it made me cringe.
I loved Empress of the World; it’s simplistic but simply amazing. I definitely think there need to be more books with LGBT characters so that maybe what I had when I was younger wouldn’t be so common.
So if you love good, realistic and relatable contemporaries that will make you laugh, cry and leave you feeling optimistic than Empress of the World is for you.