I was excited about reading Empress Of A Thousand Skies, the debut novel by Rhoda Belleza which was the chosen book in February’s ‘Emperors and Fugitives’ box from Fairy Loot. I loved the title and cover art and the premise intrigued me so I couldn’t wait to get reading!
‘Honor, loyalty and bravery, she repeated. Never mind the questions that came after: Who must she be honourable and loyal to? Who must she be brave for?’
The best way to describe this novel is that it is an epic space opera. It follows the story of Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, known as Rhee, who is the sole survivor of an ancient bloodline and heir to a Kalusian Dynasty. And as her sixteenth birthday looms ever closer, the planet awaits her coronation, and the day she will become Empress. For years she is seen as a delicate creature, nicknamed the ‘Rose of the Galaxy’ she is seen as a person to be preserved and protected until her time to rule arrives. However, Rhee has other things on her mind, and is determined to seek vengeance against those she deems responsible for the deaths of her family. The story alternates between the perspectives of Rhee and Alyosha (Aly). Aly is a Wraetan, who despite the prejudice that exists against the Wraeten people has become a popular figure. Rising above his status as a war refugee, Aly has become famous as a star of a DroneVision reality show. But despite this new found popularity, he finds himself struggling to cope with the pressure of being in the public eye, along with the attitudes that still exist around him. And as Aly and Rhee’s individual stories develop, we see how these two lives become intertwined, and how the occurrence of a particular event results in these two lives colliding.
“The Outer Belt is home to many things that science says should not exist, “he whispered. “Strange creatures. Magic creatures. They shouldn’t be alive and yet they are, they stay alive, simply because their will to live is so strong. Do you understand what I’m telling you, Princess?”
I must admit it took me a little while to get into the story but once I got used to the setting and the characters I became more invested in their stories. In terms of world building, Rhoda Belleza has created a fascinating and diverse world in which politics, warfare and society combine. And whilst this fictional world takes place amongst unusual planets in the depth of space, the issues and themes raised certainly mirror those of our own world. We see matters of social status and race, and how there are negative attitudes held by Kalusian people against the Wraeten’s, such as Aly. Early on in the story, Rhee finds herself under attack from a surprising source, and when her people believe her to have been killed it is Aly who is presumed responsible for her attack. This leaves Aly with no choice but to go on the run, and with Rhee herself in hiding as she tries to process recent events, the two characters journeys mirror one and other as they begin their quest for the truth, and to establish the sinister events that surround them. There were other aspects to their world that I found particularly interesting, such as the use of ‘cubes’ which store everyone’s memories – and the potential for danger should this facility be exploited – bringing to mind themes of privacy and security in a vast and troubled world. This was certainly an interesting story with plenty of action packed moments and discoveries along the way and I was left intrigued as to what lied ahead for its protagonists.
‘Starbursts continued behind her eyes. Pain sang through her veins. She should not have survived. Twice, she should not have survived. But she had.’
Empress Of A Thousand Skies is an intriguing sci-fi fantasy debut which deals with some interesting themes in an extraordinary setting. I believe this is the first in a series so would be interested to see what is next for these characters, and for the legacy of their planet.