The Empress Game, by Rhonda Mason
The Empress Game, by Rhonda Mason

Disclaimer: I attended Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program with the author and consider her a friend. I purchased this book for full price, though I had the luck to snag it at a book signing a few days before the official release.

I read space opera, but I mostly read space opera by one particular author (Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire series), because I measure all else by that standard.

Now I read space opera by two authors.

Despite the use of “game” in the title and the tournament mentioned on the back cover, this book is nothing like THE HUNGER GAMES, so that’s not even a conversation worth having. What THE EMPRESS GAME is instead is a space opera that accomplishes something even missing from the Skolian Empire books: space empires that are real empires, rather than a blatant good versus evil match-up where you are obviously rooting for one side.

It is this level of depth that really drew me into Mason’s story. There are deliciously villainous characters aplenty (each who have their own layered motivations), but I appreciated the fact that I couldn’t point to one political faction and say, “These people are right and should get their own way.”

Every space opera should have a little bit of romance, and this book definitely checks that box. But again, it’s a realistic romance that doesn’t overwhelm the plot. While it’s obvious from the beginning which two characters are the intended romantic pairing, the situation develops organically and without unnecessary fanfare. I also appreciate that it is a partnership first and foremost.

The science fiction tech is not as detailed as I might otherwise like, but that probably has more to do with me as a reader who likes to geek out rather than any failing on the author’s part. On the other hand, her fight scenes are as dramatic, detailed, and REALISTIC as I could have hoped. This includes everything from hand-to-hand combat, knife and sword fights, to urban stealth assaults.

I highly recommend this debut novel to all space opera fans, and even all science fiction and contemporary thriller fans.

Rating: 5 stars

(Cross-posted to GoodReads and Amazon.)

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