June 9, 2017 - 7:38 pm No Comments

THE EMPRESS GAME: CLOAK OF WAR by Rhonda Mason. Titan Books, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 391 pages. ISBN: 978-1-78329-943-0

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

There have been a number of series recently where the protagonists have to compete in games and the winners are those that survive. The best known of these are probably The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series. Attempting to join their ranks is Rhoda Mason’s The Empress Game – volume one in this series. It wasn’t a straight-forward contest as the power-seeking competitors cheated. Though Kayla, by impersonating the real contestant Isonde, wins victory she finds herself deep in politics that affects her home world.

Cloak of War is the second volume and Kayla has to continue to impersonate Isonde as the princess has been poisoned with a paralyzing toxin. Other events from volume one also have lingering consequences. Isonde has enemies who know of the deception and are not afraid to use it as blackmail. There were, undoubtedly, a number of strands in The Empress Game which are picked up again here. Kayla’s home planet (of which she is royalty) is one where psi powers exist and an unscrupulous scientist of the Sakien Empire had kidnapped her family to experiment on. They are now, she believes, on the way to safely. The man she has fallen in love with is an IDC (the Empire’s secret service) agent, and a friend of Isonde’s betrothed. Meanwhile, back on her home world, rebellion is brewing.

There is nothing wrong with this author’s ability to write and tell a story. The action sequences are believable but I found it difficult to engage with the characters. This might be a consequence of this being the middle book of a trilogy. Perhaps the in-depth characterisation and descriptions are all in volume one as it was difficult to picture the settings and in places it felt more like fantasy rather than Science Fiction. The first ninety pages or so, stick fairly closely to Kayla and the people she interacts with so it is a surprise when it suddenly switches location to characters that although having (probably) been in The Empress Game, don’t have a direct effect on the main thrust of the plot. This structure jolts the reader out of the flow of the novel, introducing unfamiliar characters. It is possible that the series has a coherence that is not tangible here. Probably this is a case of don’t start from here. Try volume one first.

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