First in the Empress trilogy
By Rhonda Mason
Available now from Pyr
In the intergalatic empire at the center of THE EMPRESS GAME, the new empress is chosen through a tournament. As this is obviously a cracked way to determine a political ruler, cheating is rampant. Isonde, a political mover and shaker who is also the beloved of the emperor, enlists help to find a body double who can fight. Her man Malkor finds Shadow Panthe, whose true name is Kayla Reunimon. She is, of course, secretly the princess of a conquered world.
Despite being in the title, I found the games the most tedious part of THE EMPRESS GAME. They gave Rhonda Mason the chance to add more action scenes, but even with explanation I was never quite sold on the tournament as a way of declaring a ruler. The political machinations, however, were ace. THE EMPRESS GAME is a good choice for space opera fans who like a plot that moves quickly and don't mind a prominent romance subplot.
Sparks fly between Malkor and Kayla, even though they are unsure whether they can trust each other. Even more than herself, Kayla worries about her younger brother Corinth, who has been mute since the assassination of their family. Keeping him safe and avenging her family are her top priorities, followed by returning to her people. She's only invested in Isonde's scheme as a means to get where she wants to go. Malkor, on the other hand, is only invested in helping Kayla out in order to put Isonde on the throne and further his political agenda. However, the two of them might have more ideology in common than they first suspect.
I thought THE EMPRESS GAME could use a bit more emphasis on the space part of space opera, but that the complex layers to the characters' motivations were done very well. Mason has set up an intriguing system where almost all of the political opinions have some merit. I'm intrigued to find out what will happen in the second book of the trilogy.