Empress of a Thousand Skies by: Rhoda Belleza
My Rating: 5 Stars
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.
Beware spoilers ahead!
Empress of a Thousand Skies was taking the book community by storm. Not surprising considering that synopsis. Coupled with all the 5 star author reviews. I was hesitant to pick it up. While I enjoy Sci-Fi, I have found that the most popular YA Sci-Fi has not been for me. I was in the bookstore and I saw Empress of a Thousand Skies. I started to skim and knew that I needed to buy this book. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it!
Rhee is preparing for her coronation. She has finally come of age to take the throne. While preparing Julian’s (her best friend) father comes to see her. Much to Rhee and the readers surprise he attempts to kill her. In self defense Rhee murders him and creates a ceremonial killing. To let whoever sent him know that she’s coming from them. Before the whole ship blows up she is rescued by a stranger.
Aly is quite disappointed to hear that Rhee was murdered. Her murder disrupts a peace treaty between all the planets. After filming an episode for DroneVision Aly and his partner Vin go to investigate a mysterious space pod. While Vin goes off, Aly comes across the pod and opens it. Much to Aly’s surprise there is a grown man murdered in a ceremonial killing. Aly realizes that Rhee is alive and attempts to connect his superiors. After being chased by unknown droids Aly is framed for murdering Rhee.
Empress of a Thousand Skies really surprised me! I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The writing is in third person in the points of view off Rhee and Aly. There’s a planet map and a character list. It is divided into parts and in the beginning of the those parts there is a text of history. Which gave some interesting incite and provided for extra world building.
Once I begun reading I had my doubts. Rhee wasn’t exactly that likable and she could be really stupid. Every time I would think to myself ‘Huh that doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘This is really dumb’. I swear it was like the author could read my mind! Belleza would then come in to show and explain us why that certain thought process was written as such. This is how the whole book went for me. I came to appreciate this because it made the characters feel real and flawed. Not Mary Sue’s or Special Snowflakes.
My favourite thing about Empress of a Thousand Skies was how well the diversity was done. Aly is a black and Rhee is Chinese. Black stereotypes was actually used as a plot device to propel the war to come. Aly dispels all these stereotypes and I really felt for him. Rhee also mentions who everyone hints at her too small eyes and make other jabs at her.
Sometimes it felt like I was reading about our world. Belleza did an amazing job showing how fear, racism, and hatred can propel a war. And how easy it is for some people to believe everything they are told.
Religion does play a huge part of the story. As there are so many races’ each one has their own religion and belief system. A part of the peace treaty is respecting each planet’s religion rather than colonizing them.
Another plus is that there’s barely any romance! It is hinted but the romance takes a backseat for the plot. This is a journey book. There’s a considerable amount off travel/running away. I felt that it was done well! As it was actually fast paced. To be honest a lot of the plot is predictable. But I still found myself enjoying it and was eagerly awaiting the next chapter.
You know all those cheesy future movies which always show a cell-phone in the brain? Belleza actually does that. The Cube is inserted into the brain and has some cell-phone features. You can call people and even message them. You also have to update it. What’s most interesting is that you can replay memories. Rhee does this quite often.
Now of course once she escapes Rhee has to deactivate her Cube. Rhee begins to experience ‘Organic’ memories. Like flashbacks coming to her whenever she thought of something. It was really interesting to read about her comparisons of the Cube vs. Organic memories. Similar to how we discuss people missing out on experiences for their phone. The Cube becomes a huge plot point as it can be hacked.
Belleza doesn’t hesitate to kill off characters. There are 4(?) characters killed off in Empress of a Thousand Skies. I did think some of these characters would play an important role. I was surprised when they were killed off. I wonder how many people will die in Blood of a Thousand Stars?
Despite what the synopsis says Aly and Rhee do not meet each other. They vaguely look at each other but never actually interact. They happen to be in the same places at the same time but again no interaction. I really don’t understand why the synopsis states as such.
Rhee spends a majority of her story arc consumed by revenge. Her point of view is written formally. Rhee’s family is a huge part of her arc, as she believes they were murdered. Her sister in particular was in a lot of flashbacks. I enjoyed reading about the flashbacks as they give some more insight into her past.
Rhee has a crush on Julian and the two have known each other since they were children. Surprisingly Julian will likely make an appearance in Blood of a Thousand Stars. He comes in the last chapter. Considering that she killed his father it would be very interesting to see where their relationship goes.
Rhee has a crew of sorts. The guy who saved her (Dahlan) brings a few people to help Rhee in her quest to take the throne. Dahlan himself is consumed by revenge. They each have that in common. Which made for an interesting relationship between the two. Rhee grows a bit past her revenge and chooses to act instead of chasing various people.
Aly’s point of view is much more chill than Rhee’s. There are made-up swear words and he uses them often. Aly is actually a refugee from one the planets that used to be at war with Rhee’s planet. His family also plays a huge role and why he does not want to go back home. There are some flashbacks about his family and his time in a refugee camp. I felt that they were well written and I enjoyed reading it!
Vin who is his co-worker on the tv show DroneVision is vital to the story. It is revealed that Vin is in fact a spy and has had suspicions of the attack on Rhee being staged. Aly doesn’t exactly take this too well. But I really couldn’t blame him as it was a lot to take in. Still their friendship was fun to read and well written.
Aly meets a girl whose name is Kara while on the run. Kara is looking for her mother who was a scientist. She went missing along with other important people at a summit meeting. The two make an alliance to help each other. It’s through Aly’s point of view that readers find out about the Cube experimentation.
I am giving Empress of a Thousand Skies an extra star for all the issues that Belleza discussed. Without getting preachy.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Empress of a Thousand Skies! I will definitely be reading Blood of a Thousand Stars. I highly recommend it for everyone.