book review – Empress of a Thousand Skies

If all we are is what people think we are, then we’re all screwed.

Rhoda Belleza’s debut novel is wonderful.

This sci-fi world is fantastical and alien in some ways but it’s also so real and relevant.

The book alternates POV between Rhee, the last surviving heir to a powerful dynasty, and Aly, a war refugee turned famous reality star. En route to claiming her throne (and avenging her murdered family) Rhee is attacked, and goes into hiding to uncover the truth about her past. Meanwhile, Aly finds himself inexplicably set up for her murder and must find a way to clear his name.

(The book’s blurb is actually a little bit misleading, since the two main characters, while connected, don’t actually meet in this book.)

The story deals with so many issues that are significant in our own world, such as war, propaganda, politics. Racial prejudice is particularly explored in Aly’s POV; he is blamed for a crime he didn’t commit because of the existing prejudices against Wraetans.

An integral part of the world Belleza has built is a galaxy-wide reliance on technology. Most people use a ‘cube’ connected to their minds, keeping them online all the time, recording their memories to be brought up and shared at will. But with this technology comes dangers and issues with privacy; what if people were able to access these thoughts and memories without consent? What if they could remove them, or even change them?

It is thought-provoking, disturbing, and entertaining.

My only real issue, personally, was the lack of female friendships – i’m struggling to recall more than two short scenes that involved two women interacting, other than when Rhee is conjuring up memories of her sister.

There is also a lot of information to digest, which meant there were times that I felt that the story wasn’t moving at a fast pace because I was pausing to make sure I had everything right.

Despite that, it is a richly built world, with relatable characters. The plot reveals tend to be gradual revelations, rather than shocking moments, but it works.

The sequel, Blood of a Thousand Stars, is out in February 2018 and I can’t wait for it!

 

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