Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Review: Seeds of Inheritance by Aimee Kuzenski

Bringing power chords of science fantasy into a story of revolution, change, magic and technology in a spacefaring elven empire.

Uneasy lies the crown. This is especially so for Leontios. He’s the ruler of an elven empire that not only stretches across the globe but into space and multiple star systems. But he doesn’t have a male heir, much to his patriarchal heart’s dismay. The rebels he exiled to the moon after their revolution are stirring and causing trouble. And Berenike, one of the leaders of that rebellion, supposedly bound by magical oaths as his servant, has plans of her own. Plans that involve her daughter, best friend, and secret lover of the emperor’s daughter.

This is the background and story of Seeds of Inheritance, by Aimee Kuzenski.

While this is a rich world of spacefaring elves, magic and lots of crunchy worldbuilding, let’s start with the vividly conceived relationship map that Kuzenski sets up here. In the end, everything in this novel ultimately comes down to how the characters we meet are related to each other and how the changes in plot all tie back to the decisions they make, usually fueled by strong personal conflicts. Berenike has been magically bound by oath after her failed revolution against Leontios, but she finds loopholes and more to maneuver her daughter to oppose the emperor. But her daughter herself, Evrim, is in love with the emperor’s heir, Hypatia, and really doesn’t want to deal with anything with revolutionary dreams, until the map shifts and she finds herself confronted with the remnants of a revolution that consider her a prophet. And the current head of the said revolution has history with Berenike, and also with Evrim as well.

This character focused relationship map, showing long standing histories, relationships and conflicts helps give this the feel that these are truly elves in space, not pointy eared humans with magic. The title, Seeds of Inheritance, can be taken in so many ways, the seeds of what Leontios did in order to invoke the revolution that he quashed in the first place, and what that revolution still fights for. The inheritance of Berenike’s daughter, whether she will or not in terms of that revolution. Berenike herself, as an inheritor of her mentor’s power. Once upon a time, Berenike was the student of Theodora, head of the Order still and the right hand of the emperor. Now she is a servant, but she sees her former mentor in the Fingertip Order everyday and that tension between mentor and student is one that slowly builds through the novel.

With this suite of characters as its center, Kuzenski builds a fascinating interstellar elven empire with all sorts of worldbuilding indeed. We get a space elevator in the form of The Lilypad, a gigantic Yggdrasil-like tree (sort of like the one in Niven’s Rainbow Mars). We get seed-shaped flyers and spacecraft. Magical bindings and rituals and how to make use of them, subvert them and deal with their consequences. The magic is very much inherent and not flashy, you are not going to find Evrim throwing fireballs here. Plenty of potions, poisons and the like, though, and lots of other biotech. In point of fact, biotech turns out to be the axis and the central question as to what and why and how the revolution happened and the consequences of that. It gives a verdant feel to the magic and technology of the novel.

And I didn’t even mention the Palacetree, the greatest of these biotech and biomagical bits of worldbuilding. The Palacetree, where most of the action takes place, is a living being, and in a real sense is an arbiter of the fitness of a new ruler if, say, the old one should get assassinated (as what Leontios did to HIS predecessor). The Palacetree, as it so happens, is also key and important to interstellar space travel.

But I do want to mention that politics again; Leontios assassinated his predecessor. Rebels and deadly decadent court and politics to match. Our other names throughout this narrative are all Greek, too. It’s clear to me that Kuzenski decided that her model for this elven empire is none other than the Byzantine Empire, and gives the elves names to match. She’s awfully clever, too. Evrim, for example, means “Evolution” in Turkish. Berenike “She who brings victory” in Greek. Hypatia was a famous scientist, and indeed, her namesake is a prodigy of magic and technology. And so on. Names convey meaning and worldbuilding and hints in the writer’s work.

As you might have guessed before, the novel and the world it depicts is very queer friendly, if almost but not quite queernorm. The emperor's obsession with having a male heir to the throne instead of his daughter, or either of his daughters shows that even the elves of a space empire need to deal with the problems of patriarchy. But we definitely see characters attracted to all genders and it is accepted as basic fact. 

Thus, if the idea of an interstellar elven empire with politics to match Byzantine court politics is something that sounds like it is relevant to your interests, Seeds of Inheritance is very possibly your cup of tea. Kuzenski is a clever writer, and it behoves you as a reader to pay attention to how the characters work with each other to get the full effect of what is happening, and why, and what it all means. I nearly missed a subtle early clue about a major character and so when a revelation and resulting cascade occurred, I was a bit flatfooted until I recalled the clue (thank you, ebook notes) and then saw how it was very nicely foreshadowed.

I did mention the relationship map before, and if I found something that is a bit weak in the novel, it is that a character, Ayşe, a potential future wife for Leontios, is introduced and integrated into the web not quite as fully and completely as I had come to appreciate with the other characters in the novel. Her relationships with the other characters, especially Berenike, don’t quite have enough room to breathe, I think, to become believable and don’t load-bear as much as the author tries to do in the finale of the novel.

Overall, however, this is a strong one-and-done novel (although further novels in this universe would be welcome) that hits space fantasy right and center, and gives the reader a fascinating set of characters and a thorny and complex problem to navigate in the context of their own very thorny and complex relationships.


  • Space science fantasy, with elves!
  • Deadly decadent court with Byzantine notes
  • Strong character focused and driven story beats

Kuzenski, Aimee, Seeds of Inheritance (self published, 2024)

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.