The Empire of Dreams

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Empire of Dreams Book Poster Image
Girl of Fire and Thorns spin-off offers a new fab girl hero.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows an elite fighting force in training, with some real pointers on how to defend yourself in attacks, especially if you are smaller than the enemy, and how to wield a sword. The main character suffers from the mental illness PTSD, and details are given about how it can affect the sufferer, though symptoms are not the same for everyone.

Positive Messages

Teamwork, a sense of duty, and sound leadership are the keys to success for the guard recruits. Sexism and racism are both fought against. No one deserves to rule just because of their blood -- they must prove themselves worthy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Red is the only female and mixed race -- half-Invierno -- recruit in the elite guard training. She deals with daily abuse about being both and handles it with perseverance and leadership. She also lives with PTSD from the childhood trauma of being an abused slave. She learns to cope with the illness in positive ways, by learning to defend herself and calm herself, depending on the situation. Depicts a loving, adoptive family.


Persistent child abuse in every flashback scene. Girl of around 6 finds her mother murdered, stabs the man responsible, then becomes a slave. She's beaten regularly, starved, given little clothing, tattooed, and her blood is regularly drawn and sold. In the main story, the main character, now 16, is beaten up, harassed for being a girl and of mixed race, and injured in fights. Others are killed in flames, poisoned, killed with daggers and swords in a skirmish, and break bones. Little detail is given. Mention that a disgraced soldier hangs himself and that a baby dies in a difficult childbirth.


Unwelcome leering by some recruits sharing quarters with a girl, and innuendo when a recruit declares he's "big everywhere." Also, the main character is supposedly infertile for being half-Invierno, and her fellow soldiers ask if she has the same "parts" as other girls. Nonsexual nakedness.


"Ass" and "damn" a few times each.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine at formal dinners. An enslaver is an angry alcoholic. Talk of people addicted to stronger forms of a drug.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Empire of Dreams is a new stand-alone story in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series that focuses on the character Red, a former enslaved girl who became a ward to the Empress in the third book, The Bitter Kingdom. It helps to read at least the first Girl of Fire and Thorns so you understand how the magic works in this world and who Inviernos are, but it's not totally necessary to enjoy the story. Flashback chapters deal with the child abuse Red suffered in slavery from around age 6. After she finds her mother dead and stabs and kills her attacker, she's beaten regularly, starved, given little clothing, tattooed, and her blood is drawn and sold. In the main story, Red, now 16, is beaten up, harassed for being a girl and of mixed race, and injured in fights. Others are killed in flames, poisoned, killed with daggers and swords in a skirmish, and break bones. All other content is relatively mild, with one alcoholic adult character, some wine drinking, a few mild swear words ("Ass" and "damn" a few times each), and unwelcome leering and sexual innuendo. Readers who loved Elisa from the original series will adore Red as well. She holds her own as the first female guard recruit and as someone who suffers from PTSD after her childhood trauma.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byLilly148 October 20, 2020

It is a good book!

This was an amazing book! It really depends on what the parent thinks, but the book was very good and I recommend it. The main character does got an army camp.... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE EMPIRE OF DREAMS, it's Red's official adoption day. She dons a horrible frilly dress and stands in front of all of Brisadulce to accept her place as princess to Empress Elisa and Prince Regent Hector. It's just a formality at age 16 after years as the Empress' ward. But the ceremony doesn't go as planned. A general meant to vouch for her doesn't show, and "Nays" ring out loud in the audience hall. Elisa fears that factions in the kingdom are rising up against them again, and right when she's set to travel across the country to give birth. Elisa tells Red she can flee the city with them, but Red doesn't want to run. She chooses to try out for Royal Guard training instead. In the barracks she should be more protected from attack, but they've never had a female recruit before, or one of mixed race. Some of her fellow recruits are leering and openly hostile, and she'll have to watch her back.

Is it any good?

Set in the world of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, this spin-off offers a resilient female hero who overcomes child abuse, sexism, and racism to kick some serious butt and save a kingdom. Author Rae Carson always delivers great female heroes, both Elisa in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series and Lee in the lauded Gold Seer Trilogy. Red comes from the humblest of backgrounds -- an abused enslaved girl who will suffer PTSD the rest of her life. Flashback chapters show her painful struggle and her amazing fortune to be purchased and freed by an empress and made her ward. As the story in the present unfolds, readers see how her past struggles prepare her for life in the barracks as the ultimate outsider.

The Empire of Dreams isn't just a character study, though. Tension builds as people around Prince Rosario are poisoned and the recruits realize their training regimen is a sham. Mysteries mount, spies pass secret messages in the mess hall, and characters race through secret passageways to find answers before it's too late to save the kingdom from danger. Readers will rush through the second half of the book as the pieces begin to fit together and wish there was more story when The Empire of Dreams comes to a close.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Red's PTSD in The Empire of Dreams. In the Author's Note, author Rae Carson says that Red's experience with PTSD reflects her own. How many stories have you read with characters dealing with mental illness? What did you learn from Red's experience?

  • Racism and sexism are both prevalent here. How does Red deal with both? How would you handle the harassment she faces daily? Is it easier to read about a character dealing with racism when that race doesn't exist in our world? What other stories have you read where characters face racism and sexism?

  • Fans of this series asked the author to tell Red's story. Is there a character you want to read more about, that you think she should feature in another book?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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