Empress of a Thousand Skies
Razorbill, 2017 320 pages
Two stories are told simultaneously, only to converge at the end, leading readers to the next installment in this projected series. The crowned-princess and heir apparent Rhee's story begins with an assassination attempt on her life by her mentor and the father of her companion/love interest. With the help of a radical monk/assassin and potential third angle in her love triangle Rhee escapes, changes her appearance, and goes undercover, seeking revenge on the man thought to have murdered her family only to seize power. Meanwhile, Aly, a refugee from a planet considered to be an enemy, is framed for the princess's murder (of which she escaped) and must run for his life. While stowing away on a spaceship he meets a fellow renegade/love interest, also in hiding. The two fugitives flee to find Cara's scientist mother, from whom they seek help, only the powers that be are on their tails. The two stories are told in alternating chapters with characters overlapping and secrets slowly being revealed. The enemy is not who the reader is shown at first and twists and turns in the fast moving plot are abundant. This futuristic society warns of our dependence on technology as computers are surgically planted in people's heads storing their memories, which becomes a vulnerable weapon to be used against enemies of the state. Who is the real enemy? What is Cara's true identity? What becomes of Rhee's childhood companion/love interest after she flees her home? These questions are all answered by book's end and will draw readers directly to the second installment, Blood of a Thousand Stars, yet to be released.
New author, Belleza, has penned a series perfect for readers of The Lunar Chronicles and The Diabolic. The futurist science fiction setting will appeal to readers, but could be flushed-out a bit more. I think because the characters are dashing around from one planet to another, the planets all kind of blend together. The plot itself gave me a bit of whiplash, but will keep teens reading and the mysteries embedded in the plot will keep them guessing. I saw many of the plot twists coming a mile away, but the target audience won't care. They will find comfort in the predictability and satisfaction at figuring it out. Various love interests balance the action and further draw-in teen readers. Offering both a male and female protagonist will invite readers of both sexes and the cover is ambiguous enough to not scare away boys. Sometimes I struggled with keeping all the characters apart, but got there eventually. Belleza does a good job at creating her characters, so even though they are numerous, they are all developed enough to be distinct. Themes introduced in this novel include racial discrimination, immigration, privacy, and the threat of dependence on technology. Empress of a Thousand Skies offers food-for-thought within a plot that leads readers through outer space at a break-neck speed.