When Empress Game: The Empress Game Trilogy Book 1by Rhonda Mason showed up in my mailbox, I committed the gravest sin a book reviewer can commit; I judged a book by its cover. A woman in black and red body paint holds two daggers, her hair in an improbable bun/ponytail combo as she prepares for a battle. Eyes were rolled far back in my head that day.
Shadow Panthe, also known as Kayla, is one of the last surviving members of an interstellar royal family that was murdered during a political struggle. Stranded on a rogue planet, she spends her days and nights battling in “the pit” to make money to support herself and her younger brother Corinth. When an international space organization lands on the planet, their attractive leader, Malkor, seeks “Shadow Panthe” out at one of the pit battles. After she kisses him a show of bravado before the match, Kayla quickly learns that Malkor is not just on the planet to watch pit fights. He follows her to her hidden home and demands her assistance in The Empress Games. Due to a royal decree, the position of Empress will be filled only after proof of skill in ritualized combat. There can be only one winner, and that winner holds untold power and the possibility of political domination of the galaxies. Malkor’s organization, the IDC, is in charge of making sure the event is fair. The only problem is the best candidate for Empress is not a fighter. Bending the rules and manipulating the former champion pit fighter in the process, Kayla is disguised through intense technology to be the Princess Isonde. It isn’t long before Kayla realizes that the fight is not just for her life, but for the lives of the entire galaxy.
Sounds cheesy, right? Empress Game: The Empress Game Trilogy Book 1turned out to be one of the most fun books I’ve read all year. There is action, intrigue and just enough romance to not be overwhelming. It felt like a darker episode of Firefly, mixed with more psychic powers and political battles. Mason is quite good at moving along the action, though descriptions of the actual fights began to get into that repetitive territory, the way The Hunger Games did. The worlds of this book are intricately imagined, but Mason does a great job of allowing the reader to fill in their own details. Some of the settings in this first book are brief, but I hope are revisited again. For example, during an investigation Malkor finds himself in the Pleasure District of a planet. My mind pictured it like a scene from Blade Runner. There are so many small nuances in this sequence alone that could be entire chapters for another book in the series.
Empress Game: The Empress Game Trilogy Book 1 is easily devoured in a couple days, or one if you’re a power reader. Thankfully, the book is listed as a Part 1 of a series. I can’t wait to read the rest.
The Empress Game is now available from Titan Books.