Empress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1)by Rhoda Belleza Published 07 Feb 2017
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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.
"Empress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1)" Reviews
People always measured war in terms of the numbers dead. Maybe they should measure it in terms of people left behind.
Uhhhhhh. This... was not terrible. I'm seeing a lot of positive reviews for it, as a matter of fact. And holy CRAP if it isn't filled with potential!! But I gotta say, this wasn't nearly as good as I expected. I expected solid gold and I got... boredom with some missed potential here and there.
In honor of the wasted potential, we'll be contrasting potential-filled aspects to bad aspects here.
♔ // GOOD: The worldbuilding is super intriguing. Belleza blends in a narrative about racism and war, and I have to say, I think it's well-executed. The parallels to our own world are impactful and very politically relevant. There are also cubes which everyone uses to access memories, and while Belleza could've fleshed that concept out a bit more, it's an interesting piece of tech.
♚ // BAD: At times the connections to our world are sooooooo heavy-handed. I'm not saying they're bad - they're maybe the best part of this book - but jesus christ, I figured out the parallels to illegal immigration on page 15. It can be subtle! Your readership understands it! Use of the word “deportation” over and over for example, makes the already interesting parallels between this world and our world totally unsubtle. AND ALSO!! The planet index only mentions 50% of the planets, and doesn't explain how they orbit. I mean, what the fuck does the quadrant system mean? Aren't all these planets moving at different speeds, given that each is a different distance from the sun? Are they just in these quadrants temporarily? Either way, the story wasn't made that much easier to follow.
♔ // GOOD: The overarching plot is interesting. There are twists and turns and nothing is ever as it seems.
♚ // BAD: Unfortunately number one: I guessed the final twist. Unfortunately number two: the plotting is convoluted and confusing. It is so obviously meant to keep you guessing and keep you on your toes and it does not work at all because none of the twists ever impact the full plot!! Also, let's talk plot contrivances. The dropping of a pill due to clumsiness is used as an actual important plot point. Also, how the fuck did Aly survive that one event? I genuinely did not understand anything that happened in that one chapter.
♔ // GOOD: Rhee is the morally ambiguous badass we have all been wishing for and hoping for. She is badass but still not afraid to break down. She has so much opportunity for growth. She doesn't have a romantic storyline. Belleza has something great here with this character.
♚ // BAD: Rhee's character changes based on where the plot needs her. She keeps having moments of “oh, I had a realization and now I am More Mature!” and yet she never seemed to actually develop as a character. Rhee makes a decision around page 150 that contradicts both human logic and everything she plans to do in literally the next chapter. I am not joking. She does, in fact, change her mind twice in three chapters.
♔ // GOOD: I flew through the last 50 pages without even glancing at how much I had left.
♚ // BAD: It occurred after I spent three. hundred. pages. being. bored. Yes, I'm in a reading slump right now, but up until the last 50 pages, I felt NO motivation to keep reading. And you know what the problem is? The writing. Belleza has that debut-novel issue where it's in third person and the characters are talked about in this removed sort of “she knew this” and “he thought that” way. And it is exactly why this book feels so boring.
♚ // A FINAL BAD: The plot is convoluted, with genuine potential getting bogged down by confusing twists and holes. Get rid of all the unnecessary twists to the plot, and you have a 100-page book.
♔ // A FINAL, AND MAJOR, GOOD: But here's the thing: I would want to read that 100-page book.This book is not your typical cliche sff. Rhoda Belleza has a great setup, good worldbuilding, no romance, and a good main character to work with in the next book. She clearly has the talent to make book two a five-star read. Will she do it? Maybe.
VERDICT: Great concept, great ideas, bad execution and wasted potential everywhere. If the sequel is better, this series could easily make my recommended list. But I'd wait and see first.
Princess Rhiannon is the sole survivor of the Ta'an legacy. Her family has had the throne for twelve generations. And if Rhee has her way, that won't stop now. She is finally turning sixteen in a week meaning she's coming of age and can take her throne. The only thing standing in her way is the vengeance she plans to take. When she was six, her entire family died in a crash officially called an accident, but Rhee knew it was murder. Her father had just signed the Urnew treaty ending the Great War. Narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Rhee is alive while the world thinks she is dead. All the while, she is trying to find out who she can really trust.
Alyosha is one of the stars of The Revolutionary Boys, a reality show that films Aly and his partner Vincent doing their UniForce job. The show has a following. Aly also happens to be a refugee from a planet that got bombed as a part of the Great War. His planet's people are viewed poorly. This opens him up to being accused of assassinating the princess forcing him on the run for a crime he did not commit.
Get ready for extremely complex galaxy politics! There are a lot of different planets with a rather deep history among them. It is a little hard to understand where exactly all the planets are in relation to each other especially with settlements on moons and planets. I did appreciate the great use of diversity. The story is filled with futuristic tech, which is pretty cool. Most people are equipped with a cube. It is basically a thing that records all your memories. There are also droids and cool details to the spaceships that really bring to life that space setting.
At times, the story was a little slow. I kept waiting for Aly and Rhee's paths to finally cross, but that never actually happens. Hopefully in the sequel? The big twist at the end is extremely predictable especially if you pay attention to details in the plot. It bothered me how the characters didn't get it, though. I do want to see where the story goes next and how things end up for Rhee, Aly, and the rest of the characters. If you read a lot of YA sci-fi, don't expect anything completely original. This is still an entertaining enough read.
DNF at page 176/314
“Had she even ever bothered to find out?”
Am I being too harsh on this? Probably. But try to put up with all the things I'm going to list down below, and then we'll see who's the saint here.
→ Rhiannon is a brat, and I'm not even a bit sorry people won't let her forget it. In spite of having no proof whatsoever, she made up this conspiracy theory when she was little, convinced herself of its truth, and never reconsidered it afterwards (forgive me, you spoiled, inconsiderate wimp, but it really seems to me like you've never really given much thought to it to begin with). She also never told anybody about it all her life, nurturing this supposedly supreme knowledge into a need for revenge she bears in silence like a freaking martyr, and she doesn't even have the decency to not be surprised when it turns out [spoilers removed]. Assuming idiot, are you now.
→ And on top of that: basically, are you telling me that the fate of her empire depends on this theory she has and she couldn't carve out three seconds of her time to properly ponder the problem in years? I don't even know what to say to that.
→ Alyosha is a petty jerk. The kind of person who decides to keep potentially life-saving knowledge from his best friend because this friend himself had “held back so much for so long”. Yeah right. You're so mature you're basically one breath away from falling off your tree, baby. And, being well aware he can do better than that, some chapters later he proceeds to halt the pod he and his friend are using to flee from a group of soldiers clearly intentioned to kill them, because the friend won't apologize for “getting [them] into that mess.” And even when the friend apologizes, it's not enough, because he must “say it like [he] mean[s] it.”
Kill. The brat. Now.
→ In order to flee from a certain situation, Rhiannon has to take a pill capable of rearranging her DNA so that she becomes undetectable. This Dahlen guy gives her this pill. They get into trouble because the pill slips from Rhiannon's hands and she can't find it anymore.
Dahlen, what kind of idiot thinks that bringing just ONE pill is a great idea?
→ The story is continuously interrupted by these flashbacks that are nice in the beginning, but grow old pretty soon and heavily hinder the flow of the plot.
→ “You've been blind–blind and wilful.”
GOT IT DARLIN'. You can stop repeating it now.
→ If the actors in a movie talked the way the characters of this book talk, I would say the screenplay sucks. They all say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The scene when [spoilers removed] is awkward. If [spoilers removed] why shouldn't he just tell her? Oh, yes. Stupid me. Because if he had the book would have ended so much sooner.
The scene when [spoilers removed] is awkward. Guy 1 is about to kill Guy 2, whom we don't want to be killed, shouldn't we tackle Guy 1 or something? No, let us be stopped by the first obstacle and just chat a bit.
The whole book is awkward. Really, it's all a matter of poor writing and storytelling. This pretty much sums it all up.
•The one good thing the book had to offer is its take on racism: Alyosha is dark-skinned, and he gets framed for a crime he didn't commit basically due to the colour of his skin. I would have love to know where this plotline would take us, but, I'm sorry, my patience has a limit.
➽ I didn't like the book in general, but the main problems where insufferable protagonists and improbable, unnatural and forced dialogues and situations. The world building was rather confusing too, but that was just the lesser evil. I'm not saying Empress of a Thousand Skies couldn't appeal to anyone, but at one point I just couldn't take it anymore. More and more idiocies kept coming, and more and more often I had to push the book out of my sight and think about something else for one minute or two before I could go on. I wish you all better luck with it.
This book is B-A-D-A-S-S. It's like Game of Thrones in space and IDK why I have to say more than that but I will: it's like ARYA STARK from Game of Thrones in space. Rhee is a total badass and I will follow her badassery and determination across every sky.
4.5 stars. I'm usually not that into sci-fi, but had so much fun with this one!! Maybe because it still felt like YA fantasy... but in space. The worldbuilding was super interesting & original (like how most people store their memories in cubes that the government can potentially overwrite), and I loved the characters.
The story's split between the main characters of Rhee and Aly. Rhee's supposed to be empress and has a rude awakening at the start as she sees just how "blind and willful" she's been. If her bloodline dies out then so does a treaty that's stopping war.
Aly and Vin have spent the past 16 months on a spaceship as the stars of a reality show. Vin is a golden boy from high society, while Aly is a refugee with a super emotional backstory.
There's so much wonderful political commentary and discussion of relevant social issues woven throughout the plot that I wanted to hug the book so many times. It's just done so well. Aly's constantly aware that he's representing all Wraetans and has to check his behavior and think twice before doing what someone like Vin can just freely do (like argue). Aly faces a lot of prejudice and asks why only the people with darker skin are constantly being compared with food.
It's a pretty fast read, but there's a ton that happens and it never got boring! I kind of wish there had been more in this story, but I guess now the sequels are set up perfectly. So yeah -- the worldbuilding was really solid, the characters were well developed, the writing was strong, and this series seems like it's going to be fun.
I think it also helped that I read this right after Starfall -- I was definitely comparing them even though I did try not to...
“Was there really so much hatred in the universe, so much prejudice, even among people who claimed to be unbiased? Had this always been true?”
Wow, this was... unexpected. I don't know about you, but these days I don't have very high hopes when it comes to the latest YA Fantasy/Sci-fi with a pretty cover. And, you know, Empress of a Thousand Skies was not the book I thought I was getting into when I picked it up. A male/female alternating POV, space travel, an empress trying to reclaim her throne... sounds like a mash-up of Carve the Mark and The Lunar Chronicles, right? But it's actually so so much more.
I've seen reviews from others who thought this book was nothing new, or who compared it to Marissa Meyer's series, but I guess I get to say "it felt like I read a completely different book" for a positive reason this time. Empress of a Thousand Skies had breakneck pacing, diversity, ZERO romance until the very end of the book, and it took on some really important, timely issues.
For me, this is exactly what science-fiction/speculative fiction should be. Belleza offers up a whole new universe of possibility, complete with power struggles and the threat of war. Into this, though, she also considers issues of race and racial profiling, technology, the media and privacy issues.
We see a charismatic leader drumming up support for his campaign by promising to get rid of the dark-skinned Wraitian refugees and immigrants who were displaced after the Great War. We see Alytosha "Aly" being framed for a crime he didn't commit because of the colour of his skin - because everyone knows Wraitians are violent and unstable, right? It was deeply disturbing to see how much a dramatic and dangerous fantasy world could mirror our own.
Perhaps even more terrifying, however, were the issues of privacy, and how technology continues to limit it. Most people in this world have a "cube" installed, which allows them to be online at all times and keeps a record of their memories. How great is it that you can revisit your memories or easily absolve yourself of a crime by showing people your cube playback? Except... what if others - hackers, the government, etc. - could get into your cube and spy on you? Or worse: change what's there? What if they could rewrite your memories to create the story they want? It makes me think of how easy it is to edit a screenshot of a post or tweet; how these days we can make it look like someone tweeted something - anything - that we want.
So, yes, there is the expected YA fantasy "throne reclamation" going on, but there's so much more, too. And Rhee's story is, in itself, quite compelling. Many chapters end in evil cliffhangers to keep us hanging on breathlessly, and I especially liked the growth and development of Rhee's character. She starts so young and naive, but is allowed to change and adapt as the novel progresses. It felt natural and realistic, as did her survivor guilt after her family's accident.
There are many reveals, some I guessed and some I didn't, but overall, I enjoyed this book so much. Entertaining, but with a lot to think about as well. I would have just liked it to be longer.
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