There were three Empresses of Mars.
Mary Griffith moved to Mars when the British Arean Company hired her as their exobiologist.
When the Company realized how expensive and time-consuming terraforming the red planet
would be, they promptly fired most of their staff and left. They currently maintain only one office on Mars and rent the rest of the land to the few settlers. Mars is a poor frontier where people survive mostly by supporting each other.
The first one was a bar at the Settlement. The second was the lady who ran the bar; though her title was strictly informal, having been bestowed on her by the regular customers, and her domain extended no further than the pleasantly gloomy walls of the only place you could get beer on the Tharsis Bulge.
The third one was the Queen of England.
The severance pay not being enough to pay for a trip back to Earth, Mary and her three daughters make do as best they could. Mary runs the local bar, the Empress of Mars, and usually trades beer and food for parts or labor.
She also takes in occasional strays who work at the bar in exchange for living space and air. Mr. Morton is another former employee of BAC, fired after he had designed all the structures in Mars. The Heretic, the bar's one-eyed cook, is prone to prophesying from time to time. Chiring is a Sherpa who videos an ongoing documentary to Kathmandu Post about life
on Mars and is building a statue of the Mother of God out of red Martian sand and his own blood.
Like other Martians, Mary is very poor, but that seems to change when she finds a red diamond from her land.
Unfortunately, the diamond may bring her more trouble than it's potential worth
- BAC is likely to take an interest in it and the land it was found from.
A good, lighthearted read, The Empress of Mars feels quite episodic
initially (this novel is an expansion of Baker's award-winning novella of the same name), but in the end the story flows well together. The quirky characters are the best part of the book.
The elected leader of the nearby Clan Morrigan, Cochevelou, is in love with Mary and would do anything for her. He has a brilliant but mentally challenged son who designs mechanical biis that pollinate the clan's crops.
Also populating the story are the Haulers, who do the mining and heavy drinking.
The atmosphere resembles a Wild West frontier standoff between the huge oppressive company and the eccentric individuals who fight united (more or less) against it. There are some fun homages to Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Barsoom books. The problems that the characters have to overcome don't ever feel insurmountable but more like obstacles which determined Mary will overcome, so there is no real feeling of danger.
Readers are treated to some interesting glimpses of the background: the Moon has been settled, the unemployed are put into correctional hospitals, and religions are apparently out of favor except for
the Ephesians, who worship a variety of goddesses. I would love to read more about this world.