Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I believe I promised that King's Cage would still be my favorite 2017 book by the end of the year, and while Aveyard's massive threequel still soars, Belleza's making me break my promise with this book that breaks the rules so beautifully.
The blurb says Empress of a Thousand Skies is perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles and Red Rising, and I gotta say, it really, really, is...but you probably wouldn't guess that from the fact that not only is this a very small book compared to Cinder or Red Rising, or that this is meant only to be the first of a duology. I once read a magazine's review of a small car that called it a "quantum-mechanics grade illusion" for being deceptively roomy inside, and that same description can apply to Rhoda Belleza's terrific debut - so much punch in such a small package.
What really, truly makes this book one of the best in its class is how well-built this story world is. So many planets, each with its own array of diverse inhabitants, and while not every world is explored in this book, that's what the sequel is for - and besides, we're mostly concerned with what's going on on Kalu, where even after a much-needed cease-fire in a recent, and pretty needless, war, the powers that be (listen to me whistling that Roger Waters song) just can't abide not having something to rattle their sabers at. Really, with all the recent god-awful politics we've had to put up with in the real world, this book is so accidentally and unsettlingly relevant with its depictions of in-universe racism and xenophobia.
While the two main characters - Rhee and Aly - don't interact much over the course of the story, that's okay too. It reminds me a bit of how, in The Fifth Element, Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman, as the movie's hero and villain, never once meet, nor directly communicate. Though, of course, Rhee and Aly aren't hero and villain, but co-protagonists, each one the hero of their own story. It's only at the very end where it becomes clear that they're perhaps a little more deeply connected than the somewhat Legend-esque blurb implies with Aly being on the run after being falsely accused of Rhee's assassination. (Oh, and before I forget - Marie Lu fans ought to check this book out too.) And, again, that's what the sequel is for.
Until that sequel comes out and wraps this story up (though, really, is it wrong of me to wish for more?), all I can say is this:
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