Review: Empress of A Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

People always measured war in terms of the numbers dead. Maybe they should measure it in terms of people left behind. 3 stars. Uhhhhhh. Empress wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as good as I expected. Is it bad that I'm disappointed?


 —+ The worldbuilding is pretty great. Rhoda Belleza blends in a narrative about racism and war. There are also cubes which everyone uses to access memories, and while Belleza could've fleshed that concept out a bit more, it's an interesting piece of tech. The map of all the planets was awesome, although the planet index only mentioned 50% of them, so the story wasn't made that much easier to follow.

 —+ Adding onto that, the overarching plot is great. There are twists and turns and nothing is ever as it seeks. Yes, I guessed the final twist, but it was still a great twist to use. Unfortunately, the plotting is executed badly, and comes off convoluted and confusing. More on that later.

 —+ The parallels to our own world are impactful and very politically relevant. At times the connections seem more informed rather than shown; use of the word “deportation,” for example, makes the interesting parallels between this world and our world totally obvious. It just felt like she was hitting you over the head with the comparisons, rather than letting the reader make connections themselves. It would've been more impactful if it were more subtle.

 —+ Rhee's character is a ton of fun. She's badass but still not afraid to break down. The issue here is that she has so much potential for an incredible character arc, while her actual character arc is mediocre. She keeps having moments of “oh, I had a realization and now I am More Mature!” and yet she never seemed to actually develop as a character. I'm really hoping this improves in book two, because Belleza has something great here with this character.


—+ Empress of a Thousand Skies is boring. Yes, I'm in a reading slump right now, but up until the last 50 pages, I felt NO motivation to keep reading. To be fair, though, I flew through the last 50 pages without even glancing at how much I had left.

 —+ Plot holes. Rhee dropping a pill is used as an actual plot point, and she's got a point. Rhee makes a decision around page 150 that contradicts both human logic and everything she plans to do in literally the next chapter. Also, how the fuck did Aly survive that one event? I didn't understand anything that happened in that chapter.

 —+ The plot is convoluted, with genuine potential getting bogged down by confusing twists and holes. Get rid of all the unnecessary twists to the plot, and you have a 100-page book. But here's the thing: I would want to read that 100-page book. I really felt the potential running through this book. Rhoda Belleza has a great concept, good worldbuilding, a good writing style, and a good main character to work with in the next book. She clearly has the talent to make book two a five-star read. So I've got high hopes.

If the sequel is better, this series could easily make my recommended list. But I'd wait and see first.


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