TW – Racist slurs (which are challenged and condemned, and do not come from the main characters)
Leave me alone. I’m innocent, he repeated to himself. I did nothing wrong.
Let’s get this out of the way : yes, space princesses who seek revenge aren’t new to the game. Yes, one cannot really praise Empress of a Thousand Skies for its unpredictability. Alright? We’re good? Now let’s talk about all the wonderful aspects that made me love it.
I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the somewhat misleading blurb, but I wouldn’t know : I never read them. I also skip loooong plots recap in reviews, because they’re boring? Like?? If I want to know the story I’ll read the damn book, thanks?
It doesn’t mean I’ll go full blind, though, and I guess you won’t either, so here’s the gist of it : Princess Rhiannon – Rhee – has been living sheltered on a far-away moon since the death of her entire family when she was six. Now she’s out to take revenge and claim her throne. Alyosha is a military/reality-star (I know, weird mix, but it works, I swear!) who’s been trying to get people to accept him his whole life, but without avail, because he’s black and the whole world is fucking racist. Think about a world – a universe, really – where almost everyone spend their whole life connected on the cube, a device that enhances memories and allows you to replay your favorites over and over again – and bury those you’d rather forget. Are you feeling uncomfortable yet? Good. You should be. Think about a world where it’s okay for leaders to start a war to get their hands on a planet’s most valuable resources, using systemic racism as a tool to prevent any kind of empathy towards the refugees these wars create. Oh, does it remind you of something? I figured.
I’ve read my fair share of “this is nothing new”, “read this one instead” and I don’t get it? Of course Empress of a Thousand Skies relies on a well-known structure! [insert a duh here] Now, I don’t know about you, but I genuinely believe that a space opera with a diverse cast of characters and that tackles systemic racism, privileges, colonization and freedom of speech deserves all our attention. Don’t you?
Add to this the privacy issues their cube creates, some of them terrifying, and you’ll get a thought-provoking novel that has nothing to envy to many YA out there.
As for the world per se, it wasn’t fully detailed but I still could get a sense of how the different societies worked – it includes different alien races, religion, and even some sort of UN (Aly’s description was hilarious, by the way). Sure, the multiple alien races made it a bit confusing to navigate through at first, but you know what? I LOVED that we didn’t have to go through pages-long descriptions about each race but rather discover their particularities little by little. So I realized 2 pages after that Derkazians were not humanoid, so what? I only had to pause one second and think it through when, you know, they barked. This is WAY less annoying and boring than regular fantasy novels that think I somehow want to read a textbook. Spoiler alert : I never do.
Ah, Rhee. She did get a fair share of hate from readers, didn’t she? Well, color me surprised, but I actually really liked the girl. Sure, she made several mistakes, but I actually really enjoyed her growth – yes, she’s been sheltered all her life and has some listening and growing to do, but who wouldn’t? She does improve her behavior throughout the story. I don’t ask characters to be perfect from the get go. No. They would be boring. I ask them to evolve, and Rhee did. On that note, (view spoiler) Give the girl a break already.
Alyosha was a very interesting character, and my favorite throughout most of the book – remember when I said Rhee’s arc would evolve? That’s why it changed. But the truth is, the guy broke my heart.
There are so many times when Aly’s POV made me shiver, furious.
When racist people are calling him a savage, a dusty, because of his color of skin and his status of refugee.
When he’s been framed for a murder he did not commit because his fellows are supposed to be these angry, violent people according to the leader’s racist narrative.
When he’s trying to explain to his – white – best-friend how different their situations are and how he has to master his facial expressions, emotions and expressions for people to not be afraid of him or attack him. His best friend who cannot get it, because contrary to Aly, “he did whatever he wanted because people had always let him” – if this is not white privilege in motion, then what is it?
When he mentioned how people kept comparing his skin to some tasty food, too.
This is what makes Empress of a Thousand Skies a great book when others were crap : there is a huge difference between incorporating real world racist stereotypes in order to create “an evil race” versus “a good race” damaging narrative AND including these racist stereotypes to fight and condemn them. Many YA novels rely on the former.
Empress of a Thousand Skies does the latter.
Now that I closed the book, though, I can confess you something : (view spoiler) There is a little bit of a romance, but I didn’t care for it. Nothing important enough to lessen my enjoyment, though, because it happened way far in the story.
Oh, and there’s Dahlen! I haven’t seen a lot of reviews mentioning him, so perhaps I’m just that weird to care about him but I DO. I’ll let you discover him, though, because everything I could say could be considered as a spoiler. But, please, please give us more of him. The guy has so much potential!
As for the pacing, it was perfect overall. Every chapter ended on a cliff and I couldn’t stop reading for one second. I actually had to and I growled. Out loud. It was that good. However, I did get a little annoyed at the way some events were played out – as in, off-page. Indeed I felt robbed several times after being let hanging there to discover two chapters after that the situation had ended without me. Ugh, no. Please don’t do that. I have trust issues.
Finally : THERE IS A CUTE DROID OKAY (I actually wrote that while reading, lol).
► If you want to read a diverse, exciting and thought-provoking YA novel, then Empress of a Thousand Skies is for you. Because even if I guessed most of the reveals, it didn’t reduce my enjoyment. I’ll eagerly wait for the sequel now.
Micro-aggressions to look out for – the word “crazy” is used a lot.