YA Weekend Audio: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Listening Library (February 7, 2017)
Length: 9 hrs and 13 mins
The last couple years have seen me get a lot pickier with my choice of YA reads, the key reason being that originality is such a rare quality in the genre these days. That’s why when I first came upon the description of The Empress of a Thousand Skies, I thought it showed promise—because sometimes, it’s not what a book’s blurb says that seals the deal; it’s what it doesn’t say. Despite the synopsis being rather short and vague, I liked how it mainly focused on the roles of the characters themselves and the way these mini-profiles teased possibilities and potential.
First, we have the Empress—or soon-to-be Empress. Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, affectionately known as Rhee, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty that has ruled the galaxy for hundreds of years. Today, on her sixteenth birthday, she will come of age and return to her seat of power to take back her rule, which a regent has been holding for her in trust ever since Rhee’s parents and older sister were killed in a starship crash. Everyone called it an accident, but Rhee knows in her heart that it was not. For the last ten years she has been training and preparing for this day, the day she will be crowned Empress so she can finally take revenge on the one who orchestrated her family’s death.
However, the enemy’s reach is long and before Rhee can reach her destination, she becomes the target of a last-ditch assassination attempt. Against all odds she manages to survive, but the official word gets out that she has been killed, with the deed being pinned on a well-known reality show star. Enter Alyosha, the Fugitive. Overnight, Aly goes from being adored by fans to becoming the most wanted man in the galaxy. Now he is on the run, desperate to clear his name and find out why he has been framed. Meanwhile, Rhee teams up with an unexpected ally on her quest for the truth, and together they forge ahead with her plans to expose a Madman and to stop them from plunging the galaxy into all-out war.
So, did Empress of a Thousand Skies meet my expectations? Well…yes and no. While I had a good time with the book, it also didn’t take me long to realize the story wasn’t going to blow me away in the originality department as I’d hoped it would. Books featuring that timeworn cliché of a sole surviving royal character seeking vengeance for their murdered family are a dime a dozen, and I was really hoping Rhee’s story was going to add something more to this, but it didn’t. In fact, the entire book was rather predictable, with a plot that felt heavily formulaic and on-rails like a theme park ride you’ve been on many times before. Overall, the book’s themes and messages were commonplace and relatively bland. Even the “twists” were pretty well scripted in advance, with foreshadowing that’s so obvious that anyone paying close attention will know exactly what’s coming.
There was also this sense that the author wanted us to like her protagonist, and yet the story never failed to drive home Rhee’s many shortcomings every chance it could, with an almost cruel consistency. I wanted to root for Rhee, I really did, but the writing itself made that hard to do when it was constantly reminding me what a spoiled and sheltered princess she was, whose naiveté always steered her wrong or made her plans seem half-baked and ineffectual. Poor girl could never catch a break.
And yet, you know how there are movies you can watch over and over again without getting bored, the ones you can still enjoy even when you can recite all the lines and know when everything’s going to happen? Reading this book was a little like that. No matter how predictable the story got, I never stopped having fun with it. There was also enough to keep me interested, especially Aly’s chapters which offered a more unique point of view. And while world-building was a little lacking, there were a still a number of details that jumped out at me, such as the cool tech or the political relationships between the different cultures. It would be nice to see the next book elaborate on these areas.
For a YA novel, Empress of a Thousand Skies doesn’t bring anything terribly new to the table, but it’s still a pretty solid debut. The book was fun despite its flaws, the main ones being the story’s predictability and the weak development of the main character, but all that can be overlooked if you’re just looking for an entertaining read. It is the first of a planned duology and I am definitely planning on seeing it through to the end.
Audiobook Comments: As an audiobook, Empress of a Thousand Skies was the listening equivalent of “unputdownable”. Because their stories are relatively straightforward, I find that YA novels typically make for very fast and addictive listens, and this one was no exception. I’m also no stranger to the work of Rebecca Soler, one of my favorite audiobook narrators, having been a fan of hers since listening to her read Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series. Since she always puts everything into her performances, I couldn’t imagine Soler bringing anything but her A-game to this one, and I was right.