Book Review: The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason (Two Stars)

Book Review: The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason

Two Stars out of Five

Think Hunger Games meets Double Star with a dash of Tristan and Iseult.

The wonder is not that I rated this book so low, but that I finished it. The setup is hokey, plot is derivative, and characters are cardboard. But I did read it all because Mason’s storytelling is wonderful. Her prose is compelling and just when you’re starting to wonder why you’re still reading this, she throws a curve.

Probably the only worse way to choose a ruler than heredity is combat. And all the contestants for The Empress Game must be princesses of some sort. So, the whole situation is doubly stupid. Oh, and the agency tasked to assure the integrity of the Games is subverting them, and that’s … good?

“Kick ass” heroines don’t impress me. Call me old-fashioned. Combat is a waste of men; it’s doubly wasteful of women. Unless, of course, your society thinks so little of humanity that women and men are equally expendable. Or worse, their injury or death becomes a source of entertainment. That said, Kayla is a likeable, loyal protagonist.

The opening chapters are a waste. If you read this book skip the first two or three. You won’t miss anything you won’t be told several more times and you can get right into the story without the insulting girls-fighting-in-pits scenes.

The ending, on the other hand, successfully concluded this tale while drawing the reader into the next. Good job. (And the reason the rating is three stars, not two.)

Quibble: This is not really space opera, not matter what Mason’s friends said in their reviews. It’s partly an eye-of-the-beholder thing, this just isn’t. I’ve read hundreds of science fiction and fantasy novels. I love SF/F and space operas. Don’t be misled.

Cover Art: any one holding daggers like that in a real fight will be dead in single-digit seconds. Presumably the critical design element was not the knives, but the bikini.

Mason is talented. She should apply her talent to better stories.

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