My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars
If he’s trying to kill me, he won’t expect me to come looking for him. —Rhiannon
After so many months of consuming fantasy and contemporary literature, I finally picked up a sci-fi book. I was particularly interested in Empress of a Thousand Skies because it was penned by a fellow Filipino. YA literature is generally a Western construct, so the least I can do is to feature/review books that shine a light on my dear Asia. With that in mind, I honestly think that this book is something that I can take pride in. 🙂
Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting space opera about a girl and boy from opposing planets. Rhee is the crown princess of Kalu, while Aly is a refugee from Wraeta. On the day of Rhee’s coronation, someone attempts to assassinate her, and Kalu becomes the prime suspect. Both of them are then forced to go into hiding. Eventually, they realize that they are pawns in a game, a conspiracy that may usher the galaxy into another state of war and destruction.
Reading this book was like watching a Star Wars movie. I’ve been a fan of the latter franchise since I was a kid (thanks to Papa and Mama). Hence, I really enjoyed all the political drama set in a variety of planets. Although Rhee was a unique character, I couldn’t help but imagine her as a younger version of Princess Leah. As for Aly, who was described to be a POC, he made me think of Finn (from Episode VII). With that in mind, my reading experience was fun and nostalgic, making me a satisfied fanboy. I guess my family would enjoy this book, too. 🙂
I specifically loved the first part of EOATS because it was fast-paced. I constantly wanted to learn more about the protagonists and the dangers that they were about to face. It also helped that each chapter (told by Rhee and Aly alternately) was relatively short. However, what really kept me flipping the pages was my desire to find out who wanted to get rid of both Rhee and Aly. Some readers were able to predict the identity of the villain, but I was honestly taken by surprise. Looking back, I didn’t feel jaded about any of the plot twists.
Racial discrimination was one of the important issues tackled in EOATS. It was implied that Aly was framed because of his dark skin and the supposedly belligerent behavior of his people. Although he managed to attain fame through a reality show called The Revolutionary Boys, Aly was convinced that people (i.e. Kalusians) were expecting the worst of him. Hence, he did his best to act friendly and charming in fear of being deported to his ruined planet. I loved this aspect of this book because it was a powerful depiction of how we Filipinos were seen as barbarians during the Colonial Period. I don’t need to say what nation(s) reinforced such propaganda. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still people nowadays who think that Filipinos are the “little, brown brothers/sisters” of You-Know-Who. Although I myself haven’t experienced racial discrimination, I found Aly to be a very relatable character. His development will surely speak to any reader who knows what it’s like to be colonized.
Rhee was a great character in her own way. She was also discriminated, but it was because of her youth. Some of the side characters treated her with condescension, not knowing that Rhee had an abundance of inner beauty and strength. Of course, she wasn’t perfect; she was impulsive and quite easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I admired her attitude toward failure. She was always determined to learn from her mistakes and use them as stepping stones to maturity and even victory.
I only encountered problems while reading the second half of the book. The pacing began to falter, bordering on uneventful territory. This was probably caused by the introduction of a third protagonist, who would then have an instalovey romance with…someone. Unfortunately, instalove will always be one of my pet peeves (at least when I don’t expect it). :3
To sum up, I highly recommend Empress of a Thousand Skies. Believe the blurb in the jacket that says this book is perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles and Red Rising. Kudos to Rhoda Belleza for writing a space opera that Filipinos can be proud of.