The Empress Game

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Empress Game
Rhonda Mason, 2015

Premise: Kayla and her brother have been hiding or on the run since their home planet was attacked by troops from the galactic empire. She’s made a new, bare-bones life by fighting in a backwater gladiatorial arena. Now she has the opportunity to get them either safety or in a lot more trouble when she’s asked to double for a princess competing to marry the heir to the empire.

I remember seeing a strong recommendation for this book, so I picked it up when it was on sale. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

The book isn’t terrible. The writing is fine, and some of the world-building (the psychic society that Kayla comes from) is intriguing.

But the plot is silly on the surface and doesn’t improve with execution. This highly technical galactic empire has a physical contest where prospective empresses attempt to beat one another into submission. It makes no sense, to the point that Kayla actually attempts to lampshade the situation in-world.

If I had connected with the characters and their motivations more strongly, really felt them, then I could have overlooked the silliness of the setup. (Not to mention the rigmarole about why Kayla’s planet is on the outs with the galactic community, which is supposed to seem politically complex and morally nuanced, but struck me as poorly explained and often convenient for the purposes of DRAMA.)

The book starts to pick up once the focus shifts to political infighting and a tentative alliance between Kayla and the woman she’s doubling for. However, for me it soon started to fall flat again as the villains are more and more villainous, and Kayla’s situation more and more of a soap opera.

The coincidental opportunities for her to help her planet by pretending to be this other woman became sillier as the book went on. The romance plot isn’t as shoved-in as it could have been, although it’s overly dramatic for my taste.

Then there’s some excitement with some last minute danger, but finally the book just sets us up for future installments instead of resolving anything.

In the end, I didn’t buy into the world or the characters, and I won’t be picking up the next volume.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

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