Title: Empress of a Thousand Skies
Author: Rhoda Belleza
Series: book #1 of a duology
Genre: YA, science-fiction, fantasy, space opera
Format: hardback; included in the February Fairyloot
Synopsis: CROWN PRINCESS RHIANNON TA’AN WANTS VENGEANCE.
The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, RHEE has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.
ALYOSHA is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.
Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.
The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.
In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, RHODA BELLEZA crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy
Before I start my review, I just want to take a second to say hello to everyone!! It’s been a while since I last posted, and though I’d like to say I’m back for good, it’s quite the opposite. School is so demanding right now, and it will continue to be until about half-way through May. So I’m letting you guys know that I’m taking an official hiatus from blogging for about a month. Having this on my plate, along with bookstagram and AP exams and final class projects, is just too much.
Anyways, on to the review! A fair warning: I read this book over a month ago and am just now writing the review, so my thoughts probably aren’t as cohesive as they would usually be. Luckily for you guys, that means my review is probably gonna be shorter!
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Empress of a Thousand Skies. It’s short and to-the-point, the plot moves at break-neck speed, and the non-stop action made it super easy to keep turning pages. It was a nice reprieve from the usual drama-filled relationships and slow-to-develop mystery that you typically read in YA books. Don’t get me wrong, I love emotional tension more than anyone else, but it was refreshing to just read about some shoot-’em-up fight scenes and battling star ships.
The protagonists, Princess Rhiannon Ta’an and Alyosha Myraz, are complete opposites in personality but equally as lovable. Rhee experiences a lot of growing pain, which I really appreciated, since I feel that a lot of YA female characters are introduced from the start as “strong” and responsible. I really believed that Rhee was a teenager discovering her place in the world. Alyosha deals with very similar issues, but doesn’t have the same advantages of social prestige and racial privilege that Rhee has.
Speaking of racial privilege, probably my favorite part of Empress was how well the author addresses diversity and the inherent lack of equality in today’s society, particularly with mainstream media. Of course, Empress is set in a far-off galaxy light years into the future, but the backstory of the dark-skinned Wraetans that suffer forced displacement by the imperialistic and lighter-skinned Kalusians is a clear reflection of our own world. Alyosha, a Wraetan, is wrongfully and circumstantially accused of the alleged murder of Princess Rhiannon, a Kalusian (all of this info can be found in the synopsis and first 50 pages of the book, so it’s not a spoiler), providing direct commentary on the flawed justice system and the prejudice of news media. I could go on for days about all of the complex detail surrounding diversity that Belleza manages to weave into this story, it truly was Empress’s strongest quality.
Empress of a Thousand Skies was also just loads of spacey fun – it’s got funky aliens, crazy cube technology that allows you to record your life and replay your memories, badass spaceships, and planets with treacherous magnetic vacuums. I hadn’t read sci-fi in quite some time, and this certainly managed to reignite my love for it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love everything about this book. The first two-thirds had me convinced it was going to make my top 10 reads of the year, but the last 100 pages completely tanked. The plot started to become weak and frayed; things started to feel as if they were happening at random, namely the death of a particular character. You won’t usually hear me say this, but I actually feel like this book needed an extra 50-100 pages of development. Certain characters that I barely knew were treated as vital to the plot, and twists that were supposed to feel surprising fell utterly flat because there wasn’t enough build-up. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that a romance was introduced in the last 75 pages or so and it virtually ruined that part of the book for me. It was insta-love on steroids, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every time the characters interacted. One of the things I loved about the beginning of this book was that there was no romance; it simply didn’t need it. If the last-minute addition of a romance hadn’t been added, I probably would’ve rated this book 5 stars.
But the ending was also a let-down. The super-surprising-gasp-worthy-plot-twist that I guess was supposed to end the book with a bang, was honestly laughable. I had predicted that development 100 pages earlier, and it was so obvious that I didn’t even realize it was intended as a “big reveal.”
All of that being said, I still really loved the majority of Empress and am looking forward to the release of its sequel! Belleza has crafted a stunning sci-fi adventure with a rich background, and I can’t wait to see how she continues to develop Rhee and Aly’s story!