5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Lately, I’ve had this really bad habit of receiving fantastic looking books, making plans to read them as soon as possible, and then ignoring said plans. And almost every single time, when I finally get round to the books, I wonder why it took me so long. The Empress Game was another fine example of this.
The focus of the story is the Empress Game itself, but it was so much more than that. The titular event sees all eligible young ladies – ladies of nobility – fight in arena matches in order to win the position of Empress Apparent. These are not matches to the death, but they can be brutal all the same, and it was interesting to see a society (or societies, rather) where the nobility, particular female nobility, were trained in such combat. It is an interesting way of choosing the right person for such a position, and whilst the reason why is never fully explained, one can imagine the kind of person it would produce: ruthless and ready to make the tough decisions that come with ruling.
Kayla is selected to take part in the Empress Game, not as herself but fighting as Princess Isonde, a fair claimant to the position with moralistic ideals, but sadly lacking the combat skills to prove herself worthy. Wearing a hologram, and with the help of some biometric/technological alterations, Kayla is able to take part in the Game. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about Kayla herself, her reasons for hiding, the history of her people and the future that may come to pass. What originally seemed like a book about fighting for the position of Empress soon turned into a book about fighting for what was right.
As for Kayla herself, I really liked her. At first she is very suspicious of those who employ her services, and she sees Princess Isonde as a total snob. Her fierceness covers up a hidden past, and her protectiveness of her younger brother Corinth is admirable. Soon, she begins to warm up, and even starts making friends. Isonde herself is shown to be a good person, not just someone who wants a powerful position for the sake of it. And Malkor, the agent that finds Kayla in the first place, provides support and friendship for Kayla.
A good chunk of the book is Kayla working through arena matches (within the Empress Game there are thousands). Mason manages to keep up the interest throughout, even whilst Kayla is just fighting as a day-to-day activity. The action and fight scenes were wonderfully written, with each movement feeling so fluid and easily to visualise.
There were a few little issues with the book: the conclusion was over too quickly in my opinion, although it did have its tense moments, and the romance was rather predictable. I do also worry that the title/parts of the blurb will make people think the story is something like The Hunger Games, with a fight to the death, last one alive pronounced the victor. However, let me assure you that The Empress Game is nothing like that at all. It turned out to be a fantastic read and I’m so excited to find out what happens in the second book. Whilst it feels like a classic space opera, it is also not too ‘heavy’, making it a great read for all types of science fiction fans. Whether you’ve just started reading the genre or you’re a hardcore fan, The Empress Game comes highly recommended.