Nicola Lancaster is spending her summer at the Siegel Institute, a hothouse of smart, intense teenagers. She soon falls in with Katrina (Manic Computer Chick), Isaac (Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself), Kevin (Inarticulate Composer) . . . and Battle, a beautiful blond dancer. The two become 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? A trailblazing debut, reissued with an introduction by acclaimed author David Levithan, and copious back matter, including three graphic novel stories by Sara Ryan (and artists Steve Leiber, Dylan Meconis, and Natalie Nourigat) about the characters.
Gay's the Word. As you may have guessed, all of the books in said pile are based in some way around homosexuality, and in many cases are 'coming of age' stories involving the main character discovering and then accepting their sexuality. That is a pretty accurate description of Empress of the World.
I was very excited to be starting this book - I'd heard good things about it and was interested in how the main character was going to react to discovering her attraction to girls when she thought herself to be heterosexual.
I found the story very easy to get into. The writing flows really well - it's engaging and it draws you right into Nic's (the protagonist) mind. And it's not long before we get to know the other characters, first through Nic's eyes (as she watches and draws them) and then in person when the bubbly, confident and (maybe a bit overly) friendly Kristina brings them together after their introduction to summer camp.
I loved Kristina's character, and I also really liked Isaac, who seems quite down to Earth and sweet most of the time. However, the character that I didn't like (and was probably supposed to) was Battle. She's described as very striking and beautiful, and it's clear that there is an attraction-come-obsession going on with her and Nic, even without the help of the blurb, but I couldn't bring myself to like her. It seemed to me that she was very on and off with Nic (yeah, okay, denial of sexuality etc, but so what?) and I often found her quite abrasive and selfish. Despite this, though, I believed in her as a person, which I guess is more the point. You don't have like a character for them to be a good one, right? But this did mean that I wasn't routing for the main romance.
Despite not liking Battle, however, I did find the story quite engaging, and I managed to read the entire thing in less than a day (with a sleep between). I think what I found most compelling was the writing itself, rather than the story. I could 'feel' the characters really well through the narrative and dialogue, and the plot moved forward very quickly - perhaps too quickly, as I found it was quite bitty. I know that it was supposed to span an entire summer, which is fine, but I thought that it was spread a little bit too thinly.
I think I would also have liked to see a little bit less of the romance and little more plot elsewhere. I know, I know, I hear you - but it's a romance, you're saying - I know this, but the best romances I've read have some sort of plot outside of the romance. I'm thinking here of authors like Katie McGarry, where the characters have interesting stories of their own, and these stories come together during the romance. I know Empress of the World is about a discovery of sexuality, but I still feel that it could have had a little more to it (especially with Battle's family background).
I'm not going to go into too much detail about this, because it's not in every edition of the story, but at the end of my copy was an extra section that contained three short comics, each a story based on one of the three main female characters. Although I can appreciate a good comic, I found that I wasn't keen on these. Usually I want to know what happens to characters after the end of a novel, but in this case, I was quite happy to leave them where they were. I'm not sure that I like any of the stories in these comics, and if I was to recommend this book to anyone, I would suggest not reading these and leaving the story as it is at the end. But perhaps that's just me.
Overall, I did really like Empress of the World. It was instantly engaging and the voice drew me right into Nic's mind and world. Although I didn't like the romantic interest, I did enjoy watching the romance(s) unfold and did want to know how the story was going to end. This is a really quick read and a pretty good one if you're looking for a quick LGBT read. A nice one for a relaxing summer day, perhaps?