If you loved Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy or cried foul after they cancelled Joss Whedon’s space-western drama Firefly, then you might just enjoy Fil-Am author, Rhoda Belleza’s debut novel, Empress of a Thousand Skies.
It begins simply enough. With a 16-year-old Rhiannon frantically making her way through a bustling marketplace in Nau Frama – a hot desert planet straight out of Star Wars.
Hot on her heels are the dreaded Tassin. An elite group of fighters plucked from the ranks of the intergalactic UniForce soldiers who happen to specialize in personal security—AKA her royal guards.
Because as the blurbs reveal, Rhee isn’t just any kind of girl.
She is the last living member of the powerful Ta’an dynasty and the rightful heir to the throne of Kalu. All because she survived a fatal crash that killed her entire family.
Now she’s hell bent on exacting her revenge on the Crown Regent – a man who had conveniently ruled on her behalf, and the man she’s long believed was behind her family’s assassination.
It would’ve gone fine and dandy too if Rhiannon hadn’t been killed en route to her own crowning ceremony. At least that’s what the Crown Regent had sadly announced in his hologram to the entire galaxy.
With her gone, the planets are on the verge of war. Factions loyal to her family have taken arms. A state Martial Law has been declared in Kalu, and more and more UniForce troops have popped up in every corner of the galaxy like cystic acne on a prepubescent teen.
Only, Rhee is still alive.
And her alleged killer, a war refugee named Aly, is grappling to understand why he became the fall guy.
So begins Rhee and Aly’s interweaving destines of a princess out to seek justice and revenge, and a boy trying to come to terms with a world that has never worked in his favor.
Now there’s a lot to love in this epic space opera, primarily because the themes feel all so familiar.
There are refugees. The obsession with reality TV shows. Sociological-economic classes. Racism. Dependence on technology. Organic, wooden ships complete with crawling vines (just like Saga). And well-drawn characters like the indifferent Fisherman – who helps Rhee attain her new identity – a pale-blue skinned man with a long face and a stretched-out, almost liquid anatomy that falls and droops, because he’d been away from a high-grav environment for so long.
Interspersed between the pages you’ll find historical accounts of the Great War that resulted in Kalu bombing Wraeta, the Cube that everyone wears and can’t live without – a nifty device that translates universal dialects and draws up beloved memories, findings from G1-K summit where 1000 of the universe’s best scientists meet to make technology more accessible to the entire galaxy.
Belleza’s world-building skills make the book a lot more interesting even when the plot is pretty much straightforward, though still full of twists and turns.
It’s a visual delight for any sci-fi geek. And all in all, a thrilling ride for anyone looking to discover great new worlds that YA Fantasy books have been lacking over the past few years.
In the late ’90s, Fran was in her lesser twenties. She is “less twenty” forever and even more so depending on time zones.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not expressly reflect the views of Fully Booked. That said, we love our authors anyway.]
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