Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza


“Was there really so much hatred in the universe, so much prejudice, even among people who claimed to be unbiased? Had this always been true?”


Honestly, Sci-Fi isn’t always my go-to genre; I have always been an avid Star Wars fan, but I tend to be quite wary of sci-fi novels as I really struggle to find ones that I can connect with, or that don’t info dump too much (in my opinion). However, when Empress of a Thousand Skies was announced, I jumped straight on the hype train along with everyone else. All I knew about this book was that it was a YA sci-fi, centered around a Princess set on vengeance, full of diverse characters, and I had high hopes for it. I’m happy to say that this book didn’t disappoint. 
Empress of a Thousand Skies switches between two POV’s – Princess Rhiannon Ta’an (Rhee), the last survivor of the Kalusian dynasty. Rhee is approaching her sixteenth birthday and coronation, but is determined to out her family’s murderer before she is crowned. The second POV character is Alyosha, a Wraetan refugee who has found fame in a DroneVision show, The Revolutionary Boys. When Rhee is attacked during her journey to her home planet a few days before her coronation is planned, the galaxy assumes her dead, and Alyosha is blamed – a scapegoat in a universe still full of prejudices against Wraetans. 

For me, what really made this book was the incredibly relevant social commentary. Alyosha struggles daily with being Wraetan and being famous – he feels as though his actions will reflect the actions of everyone from Wraeta, his home planet which was destroyed in the last war with Kalu. Despite the treaty between the Kalusians and the Wraetans following the war, tensions are still high between them both, and Alyosha is determined to prove the often racist and stereotypical opinions that the Kalusians have of the Wraetans wrong. However, when he is framed for Rhee’s murder, all of his carefully done hard work goes awry, and war flares back up across the galaxy. Alyosha also has an incredibly emotional backstory, focusing on his journey away from Wraeta before it’s destruction, and his feelings of displacement ever since. I felt as though Alyosha’s story particularly is so relevant to the world we’re currently living in, and it was easy to see the parallels despite him being from a completely fictional planet. 
Rhee’s side of the story is far more fast paced, and is much more of a coming of age story as she delves into the secrets surrounding the murder of her parents and sister, as well as coming to terms with the differing opinions of her being on the brink of taking the crown at such a young age. Both Rhee and Aly’s stories circle each other and join together in such a perfect way, making the overall plot of this book full of cliffhangers, surprise twists and heartbreaking scenes. 

I often struggle with world building in sci-fi novels, however the world building in Empress was both easy to follow and complex enough to flesh out the galaxy at the same time. Each of the characters visited multiple planets, moons etc throughout, which I thought really added to the overall plot – why stick to one planet when you have a whole galaxy in your reach? There was also a map and a little glossary at the front – two things which are bound to start a book off on the right foot!
If I were to have one criticism, it’d be that I would have liked more character development. I felt as though I could have connected to Rhee more than I did, and hopefully I’ll be more emotionally invested in her story in the second book. 
Overall, Empress is truly unlike any other sci-fi book I’ve ever read – it’s culturally relevant to our time, whilst remaining fast-paced enough to keep you interested, and is set across a whole galaxy that I can’t wait to see more of in the sequel. I’d definitely recommend this book! 
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love Becky @

The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid

Nemesis is a Diabolic – a humanoid creature created to protect one individual, and destroy anything that threatens them. Nemesis is bonded to Sidonia, daughter of galactic Senator von Impyrian, whom the Emperor considers a threat and a heretic. When the Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court, Nemesis knows this could be a death sentence, and finds only one way to protect her – she must become Sidonia, and visit the court in her place.
Amongst the Grandiloquy, Nemesis discovers the true intentions of the Emperor, as well as of his heir Tyrus, said by all to be a madman. Whilst learning to navigate court intrigue, attempting to hide her true nature, and being away from Sidonia for the first time since their bond was created, Nemesis begins to discover the one thing that she believed Diabolics didn’t have – her humanity. 

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When I first started The Diabolic, I described it to my husband as being “like Ancient Rome but in space”. I’m sticking by this description, as simple as it is. This was a very odd mash-up of worlds – the political and court intrigue in the style of the Roman Empire, with Roman titles and Latin-esque names, but in a futuristic world where Earth has become unsustainable, those living planet-side are viewed as commoners, Senators live on their own huge ships and rule over small sections of the galaxy, and the Emperor’s court is made up of numerous spaceships all docked together. Although I’ve read many Roman/Grecian style novels, I’ve never read any Sci-Fi ones, and I did really enjoy this aspect of The Diabolic and the world-building in it. 

In terms of characters, I loved Nemesis. She went through so much character development, and although “unhuman creature finding their humanity” may sound like a bit of a trope or a stereotype, it really wasn’t in this book! Nemesis’s thought processes and inner conflicts with herself, her feelings and her behaviour played out really well. Because of this, despite her supposedly being unhuman and without emotion (which definitely wasn’t true), she was actually a really easy character to relate to. I loved how protective she was over Sidonia, and how Donia always saw her as an equal and saw her humanity, even if everyone else in the Impyrian household and in the Emperor’s court believed her and other Diabolics to be nothing more than servants without feelings. 
There is a romance in this book, but I didn’t think it was a bad one. It wasn’t rushed into and the way that it was built up, it just seemed to make sense, especially with the events going on around the characters, and with the characters own developments and storylines.

A lot of reviews that I’ve read for this book seemed to think that it was too violent. Perhaps it’s my dark British mindset and sense of humour, but I just didn’t agree with this. Yes, it was violent, it was bloody, and it was packed full of nasty plots and backstabbing, but I just didn’t think it was too much? I’ve definitely read more violent books – the ASOIAF series is darker and bloodier than this book by far. Obviously this is just my personal opinion, as it’s others that it’s too violent, but I just wanted to say don’t let the violence put you off! Chances are you’ll be like me and not see it as being too far. 

Although I was happy with how the book ended and I wasn’t expecting the very final plot twist, I didn’t like what happened to lead to the conclusion, if that makes sense. I won’t say anything else about this as it’s a big spoiler! 

Overall, I enjoyed The Diabolic; it would have been almost perfect if the last few chapters had been slightly different and if they’d maybe been a bit less rushed. I think that this book could have easily had another hundred pages or so and benefited from it, and I definitely would have liked to know some more about certain characters, as well as the world it’s set in in general.

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love,

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

 

I think I can sum up these two books by saying they just make me happy. I can also easily say that these books won’t be for everyone – there’s not a lot of action or plot, it is about the characters, their relationships and their struggles. The events of this book take place soon after the ending of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and although there are a few references to the previous book, I think this could be read as a standalone. We now follow the stories of Sidra, an AI previously known as Lovelace as she comes to terms living in a synthetic body, with no memories of her previous life. Our second character is Pepper as she tells the story of how she was made and titled Jayne 23, one of many little girls created purely to work in factories across the galaxy. Overall, Becky Chambers delves into the world of AIs and sentient vs non-sentient beings – Sidra/Lovelace being created as an AI and Pepper being raised by them. 

It is a book of character development – Pepper being brought up by ‘Mother’ AIs and then Owl, an AI that saves her life and essentially becomes the most important person in her life – the mother she never had. We follow Pepper from the age of 10 as she escapes her compound prison and out into a world she has never seen before. Not even knowing what a sun or sky is, unable to read and used to only liquid meals, a voice appears from nowhere and becomes her saviour. Owl, an AI, programmed into a near crashed ship takes Jayne 23 under her wing (har har) and the two form a bond that lasts over nine years until they finally leave the desolate planet. This relationship killed me, destroyed me. Owl is the only person Jayne has despite only being a face on a screen. She teaches her everything, looks after her and even temporarily installs herself into a virtual gaming body so she could sit by Jayne. So many of their moments made me want to cry – they essentially save each other.

We also follow the relationship of Pepper and Blue and find out its origin but a new relationship formed between Sidra and Tak, an Aeluon tattoo-artist who essentially helps her come to terms with her new, synthetic body that she feels she doesn’t belong in. Becky Chambers writes these friendships that are so pure and full of understanding that you can’t help but feel happy. It was one of the strongest points in the first book and it has continued in the sequel. We also fall back into this galaxy of many different species, cultures and laws but the one thing remains, this is a book that focuses on the importance of consent, gender pronouns and sexuality. Throughout the story, Tak, being an Aeluon, regularly switches between genders and it is just a normal thing. These primarily sci-fi novels are more informative on important issues than most contemporary books. 

Overall, although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first one, it is still definitely a 5-star read for me. Everything Becky Chambers writes just blows my mind. She writes sci-fi without info-dumping, without epic space battles and yet still manages to construct these worlds and characters with so much depth that you can’t help but become emotionally-attached to them. Pepper, Blue, Sidra, Owl and Tak – people so different and yet bound together by trust and love. I’m not sure what the author has planned next but whatever it is, I’ll be first in line on release day. I want to thank her for allowing me to come back home amongst the pages of her story. 
This book will be released on October 20th
Love,