A Good Start to a Space Opera | Review of ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies’ (Empress of a Thousand Skies #1)


By Cynthia Ayala

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
Razorbill
Image Credit: Goodreads

“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. However, 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.” —Goodreads

Published February 7, 2017, by Razorbill Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza is the first in a young adult space opera.

Completely unexpected, and yet not. There are a bunch of similarities in this novel to various forms of literature that deal with a displaced princess, but the way this novel goes twists it. Rhee is a displaced princess because her family was murdered, leaving her the sole survivor. However, this did not place her in hiding. Unlike most fiction which does so, instead, the novel puts Rhee in the spotlight leaving her a princess as well as a ploy for the villains. It is interesting how the novel takes a classic trope and finds a way to flip it on its head. It gives the narrative a freshness that could have been in the vastness of stories about displaced princesses’.

However, that was not the most significant hurdle Belleza faced in telling this story. The biggest challenge is building the universe that drives the story. It is such a vast universe that deals with prejudices all around, giving the story a grounding factor. This world is it is own entity, not like other stories that like to have an origin of people from earth going to a new galaxy. No, this story functions as a proper space opera, giving it its time to grow and flourish is. However, as with all stories that breathe and expand upon traditional tropes, that means the story has to fill the reader in on all the history and the different races and cultures in this world. Many of them resonate with what readers know of their own lives, as the story deals with prejudices of class and race, specifically touching on the color of one’s skin and challenging those prejudices. The various cultures explored in the novel are briefly touched upon and are in need of dire exploration. There’s so much touched upon that it is clear that Belleza has barely touched the iceberg of her story. Moreover, yet, the exploration, limited as it is, blooms throughout the story. Belleza explores this world without dragging down the narrative and pace of the novel. Belleza slips bits and pieces of history and cultural differences, as well as racial prejudices, into the narrative, both internal and external to give not only insight into the world but also the characters.

Rhee is driven by revenge, clouding her as a character, and she is also incredibly naïve. Rhee’s narrative makes her an unflattering character in the beginning. Yes, it is easy for the reader to sympathize with the character, but her blindness, her inability and refusal to see past the anger makes her unlikable. Her blindness and tone, however, to serve to make her a very human character. She is unlikable in the beginning, but she grows as she begins to see what rage does to a person. So there’s strong character development in the novel. She is not the only one. Aly is a tv star of sorts who faces racism all around. It hard for him to deal with, once again generating sympathy for the character. However, his attitude is much lighter, even after being framed for murder, he has this cockiness to him that makes him incredibly likable. However, Aly changes too. He goes from being this cocky goofy guy to someone who thinks things through, to someone who grows up and becomes more serious, carrying a weight he thought he left long ago.

The novel deals with so much, many societal issues, and in the background, there is this massive science fiction world that is just beginning to bloom. There’s intrigue and diversity and plot twist after plot twist. Admittedly, there is some confusion. There is such a vast world here, so many names drop as if the reader should know how these planets all relate to one another, except the reader does not. Moreover, the context does not always explain the slang. Much of this leaves the reader lost, scratching their head as they try to remember just where the characters are supposed to go, where things are, and how the language works here. So all of that leaves room for confusion to bloom, jolting the reader out of the story.

Nevertheless, it was quite the fast-paced novel and an excellent beginning to a new space opera. (★★★☆☆ | B)

Product Details:

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

Page count: 314pp

Age Range: 12 & Over

ISBN: 978-1-1019-9910-3

Publisher: Razorbill

List Price:  $17.99

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