Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled, that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat in the ancient tradition. Now that tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the females of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reinumon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena.

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

372 pages, Paperback

First published July 10, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Rhonda Mason

5 books91 followers
Rhonda Mason divides her time between writing, editing, bulldogs and beaching. Her writing spans the gamut of speculative fiction, from space opera to epic fantasy to urban paranormal and back again. The only thing limiting her energy for fantastical worlds is the space-time continuum. When not creating worlds she edits for a living, and follows her marine biologist husband to the nearest beach. In between preserving sea grass and deterring invasive species, she snorkels every chance she gets. She has a masters degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, specializing in Speculative Fiction. You can find her at www.RhondaMason.com.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
285 (24%)
4 stars
459 (38%)
3 stars
311 (26%)
2 stars
107 (9%)
1 star
22 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 186 reviews
March 31, 2020

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

DNF @ 6%

This wasn't a bad book... it was just really boring. Do you ever have one of those reads where the premise sounds awesome but the writing just can't carry it off. Michelle Sagara is like that for me. In principle, her stories sound like the types of books I ought to love, but her writing is so dense and puts me to sleep. That's how I felt about this. Great premise, dull execution.

I buddy-read this with my friend TL and she says that it gets better about halfway through but that's more time than I really want to invest in a book that might or might not pay off. Giving this book two stars despite not finishing because I honestly feel like I'd probably at least find it okay if I pressed through, but with almost 1,000 books to weed through on my Kindle, I'd rather not waste my time.

1.5 to 2 stars
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,969 followers
October 29, 2015
Okay, seriously, this took a long time for me to start caring about the characters, but it finally happened well after the half-way point of the book. That's a real shame, because I was frankly bored out of my skull by most of it.

Best Space Opera? Please.

We got ourselves a bit of knife fighting in a tournament and then a road trip with blackmailing spies and a con job to put an empress on the throne of a multi planet empire. If that isn't bad enough, we've got the old trope of princess-in-disguise right out of standard fantasy fiction. (Or even Shakespeare, if you want to go there.) We've got the way overdone psi schtick and a throwaway nanoplague, too. What the book really needed were solid characters to pull a tired and not-so-fresh landscape into a vibrant and interesting novel.

And we did. Very, very late. It saved the book in full estimation, but if we'd had the glories of that character vibrancy and depth and the hint of a great plot twist or two brewing at the beginning, I wouldn't have had any problem slogging through the meh roadtrip or the throwaway battles. I would have seen them as build-up and atmosphere enhancing, not just a page-filler that did oh-so-little to propel the actual STORY.

So what am I saying? Oh, perhaps a bit of editing would have been in order. Do a time twist in the story. Bring some later events to the front end then let it back up and build again. Show us the love, the important action, the heartache and the epic, and do it right off the bat. Maybe then I wouldn't have been yawning and asking myself why I was reading this.

It didn't end with a whimper, at least. But it sure started with one. Yes, Yes, the first scene was a fight, and yes she kissed the boy who would be hers in front of a whole stadium, and yes she was kidnapped and blackmailed almost right away... but that's no excuse for not grabbing me by the heart and insuring my interest from the very start. It didn't happen until much, much later, and that's my problem.

And then there was the growing suspicion that the book was entirely about the teenage boy. So much revolved around him, and little about it was even interesting. The MC was a superstar, for heaven's sake, and I was wondering why the hell I was stuck in a boring cul-du-sac with this mute boy who's oddly a mary-sue. Huh? Huh? Why?

Oh, it's only meant to give the MC something we can relate to? Some human charm and heartstring-pulling? No. It was too little and too drawn out and threatened to consume ALL of the momentum of the tale.

I was also a bit annoyed with all the orphaned place-and-name-dropping that meant very little to me as a reader. Not even a two-word descriptor to placehold them for me or give the rest of the world a bit of depth and color. Though, to be honest, I'd be just as annoyed if I was just given some map that I'd never refer to as I read the book. I've seen WAY too many wonderful examples of incorporating names with beauty and verve, and it was all sadly missing from this novel. Zoom zoom idc zoom zoom.

I know this sounds a bit like I should be giving the novel a one or a two star rating, but in the end, it did affect me. It was redeemed, even if it was very flawed. There were a lot of standard tropes and ideas that really required a first class talent to bring to life even though they're rather standard, OR it required such glorious characters and development that everything else receded into the background. We eventually got the latter, but it only half-worked as a great piece of writing and only late did it succeed in its characters.

Not sure if I'd really recommend this to anyone, unless:

You've never read about nano plagues happening off-screen and mostly out of mind unless you need a plot bogeyman.
You don't need anything more than a skimpy and almost inexplicable reason for holding a tournament designed for females to fight single combat for the right to become the Empress.
You've never gotten tired of the omnipresent hidden-princess trope.

If you fall into any of these categories, then dive right in, friends. :) Fair warning, though, it'll take a while before the action becomes good and decent and not just a fart in the wind.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,263 reviews222 followers
October 12, 2015
A preview of the next Disney animation where they get all their movie princesses together and make them fight with kris knives in gladiatorial combat. (My money is on Mu Lan).

Ok, it's not that. That would be cool. This is also cool, and does feature princesses fighting in gladiatorial combat, but we also get politics, psionic powers, spy agency intrigue and a romantic subplot.

Kayla is a princess from one of the Wyrd worlds. Populated by psychics and where the women are much stronger and larger physically then the men (seriously, she's described as being nearly 2 metres tall, putting her at about 6'4" or 6'5"). Since she fled from a bloody coup on her home planet with her much younger brother she's been making a living as a pit fighter. The book starts with her being "recruited" by the agency that caused the coup on her home planet in a scheme to cheat in the Empress Game so that the new Empress will be sympathetic to withdrawing the occupation of her home planet.

The Empress Game is a bizarre addition to a fairly bizarre system of government where the Empress, one of seven people on a ruling council, is selected by physical combat between women of rank. Best not to analyze that too much, the point is princesses with large knives and swords.

Of course, there's a hell of a lot more to this, and the book fairly drowns in plot. I think it's all a bit much for Kayla to take in because she inexplicably falls in love with her handler from the spy organization that killed her family. The romantic elements are fine when they're there, it just doesn't make a lot of sense how she got there in the first place.

Overall though, it was very much a fun page-turner and I do recommend it.
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 80 books16.9k followers
December 14, 2015
This debut novel was written by one of Seton Hill University's MFA graduates and I bought a copy during our annual Super Mega Book Signing in June. Rhonda and I were in the program together, but she was a few semesters ahead of me (and she hung out with the cool kids ;).

The book is science fiction with romantic elements (some might call that space opera). I really liked the main protagonist - Kayla is a kickass heroines but she's not obnoxious about it (I like strong independent characters, but those that refuse all help and are so stubborn they're stupid...that's what I consider obnoxious). Her goal is to protect her brother and stay alive since the people who killed the rest of her family are after them. She fights in a gladiator-type venue to earn money for them and draws the attention of the main hero, Malkor who needs a body double to fight in the Empress Games.

This book has a nice mix of political intrigue, action, technology, and a likable cast of characters. It's also nicely balanced - not too much political mumbo jumbo, or high tech gadgetry, and not a continuous stream of detailed fights. Yes, the fights are important and well written! Gotta love someone who can write a decent fight scene! But it's not like you're reading page after page of fighting.

This is the first book in a series and I'm looking forward to the next book. My only complaint comes at the very end - not the climax, that's handled deftly, but what comes after.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,133 reviews309 followers
October 12, 2015
Delicious page-turning badassery (is that a word?)

This book has action, deception, drama, evil mind-control experiments, a devastating nanite plague, and high ranking ladies kicking butt in gladiatorial style games to determine who will be the next Empress. What's not to like? Nothing! This book was awesome.
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
October 12, 2015
4.5. Extremely readable, densely-packed start to what will hopefully be a very exciting series. There's so much in here that it is hard to know where to start - pit fighting! nanobite virus! an empire at war with a race of psychic, crazily advanced technological people! factions within the diplomatic corps! And I haven't even mentioned the main event - the gladiatorial fights to select the next empress, wherein our intrepid heroine, Kayla, must impersonate a princess and win her the hand of the prince. Kayla is a great character, and I am looking forward to more.
Profile Image for Helen.
877 reviews2 followers
August 3, 2016
There is so much happening in this that it's difficult to decide what to say! We have a fighter and her kid brother desperately trying to stay alive, gladiator-style games to choose a bride/empress, major bad guys and regular ones. Betrayal, loyalty and romance. Sigh, that kiss...

Basically read it!
Profile Image for TL .
1,822 reviews35 followers
March 24, 2020
Buddyread with Nenia

Liked it but didn't love it.

It took about half the book for me to start getting more interested in the characters. Up until then, I was interested in a way and was willing to be patient and see what the author had up her sleeve.

Loved Kayla, and the concept of the story but I was overall "meh" with it. The book wasn't boring or poorly done, it just didn't "wow" me.

Would be a good introduction to Space Opera for someone new to it all.
Profile Image for Rinn.
292 reviews217 followers
August 19, 2022
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.

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.
Profile Image for Jordan.
329 reviews8 followers
August 13, 2015
Always a pleasant surprise when a book exceeds your expectations. I feared this one would be a cheap Hunger Games knock-off, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. It’s way more interesting and the world is far more fleshed out than that comparison would imply….

Kayla Reunimon is not someone you want to mess with. Her family is dead, killed in a coup orchestrated by treacherous agents of the Sekian Empire in an attempt to bend the advanced technological expertise of the Wyrds to their own ends. Now exiled and presumed dead, Kayla is forced to fight for her life in the gladiatorial pits as the mysterious Shadow Panthe. It’s not much of a life, but it keeps Kayla and her little brother under the radar of the Imperial Diplomatic Corps…until a new Empress Game is called, summoning princesses from across the Empire to the capital to compete for the hand of the Emperor Apparent in brutal combat. Now Kayla finds herself recruited in a daring scheme to fix the games…and perhaps save her people in the process.

At first glance, the central premise of the book seems completely idiotic. A galactic empire that decides matters of succession via gladiatorial combat? Far-fetched is putting it kindly. Except that the author knows this is ridiculous, and so do her characters. Thus, the whole point of fixing the game to put the right person on the throne. There’s even a believable rationale for how that started, though it doesn’t do much to redeem the practice. I was a bit skeptical going into the book, but I have to say that the author won me over. I shall certainly be looking for the next book in the trilogy, especially since this one simply cannot stand on its own.

CONTENT: Minor profanity, along with some stronger fictional swearing. Occasional sexual innuendo, including a sex scene that is frank without being graphic. Strong violence.
526 reviews
August 13, 2015
One review/recommendation of this book said if you like Jack Campbell then you might like this. I scoffed at that since Jack Campbell is, in my opinion, of the finest hard SF authors. But I was intrigued, so I requested the book from the library. I downloaded it,put off starting it for a few days then finally started reading. I could not put it down until I finished the book.

This book is not hard SF. It is,however,a finely crafted book with a plausible world view and characters that have a good deal of depth. The characters seemed to capture me into their world and feelings. Very much like Jack Campbell in how the characters develop and learn to relate to each other. I could easily picture then as they moved through the plot. Plot twists that take a while to develop and do not leave you hanging. PSI powers that may be hidden, a betrayal and a growing realization of the depth of partnership without psi. This book is indeed a gem.

I anxiously am waiting for the next book in what looks to be a great series.
Profile Image for Jen Brooks.
Author 1 book81 followers
April 21, 2015
This space opera has it all: It’s gut-wrenching. It’s thoughtful. It has strong science fiction elements, and it’s full of seriously kick-ass fighting scenes.

Kayla Reinumon is an exiled Wyrd princess forced to hide her identity and fight in the Blood Pit to keep herself and her young brother alive. IDC agent Malkor Rua finds her there and, ignorant of her true identity, convinces her to play the starring role in the biggest con in the empire—the fixing of the Empress Game, a martial contest whose winner will become the next Empress of the Empire. With her fighting skills, Kayla will impersonate Isonde, Malkor’s choice to be the next Empress, a woman whose political ideals align mostly with Kayla’s own. If Kayla wins, Isonde will gain an essential voice in the running of the Empire, while Kayla will earn enough money to take herself and her brother home.

In addition to the enormous odds of simply winning the Game, Kayla and Malkor fight enemies on several fronts. A dangerous nanovirus threatens the Empire. A corrupt faction in the IDC attempts an assassination. Most importantly a dangerous scientist works to unleash a powerful new weapon that could mean the destruction of Kayla’s people. Rhonda Mason does a masterful job of weaving all of these plot elements into one powerful climax, and the conclusion of the book is both satisfying in itself, while leaving plenty to be explored in books two and three of this trilogy.

Kayla must fight battles both inside and outside the arena to protect her brother, her people, and herself. All while crippled with an inability to use her innate psi powers. All while hiding her true identity from Malkor and the rest of the Empire. In addition to the science fiction elements, romantic interludes, and detailed fights, it is Kayla’s painful journey to recover what she’s lost that will have readers remembering her long after the final page is turned.
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews64 followers
December 30, 2015
In the intergalatic empire at the center of THE EMPRESS GAME, the new empress is chosen through a tournament. As this is obviously a cracked way to determine a political ruler, cheating is rampant. Isonde, a political mover and shaker who is also the beloved of the emperor, enlists help to find a body double who can fight. Her man Malkor finds Shadow Panthe, whose true name is Kayla Reunimon. She is, of course, secretly the princess of a conquered world.

Despite being in the title, I found the games the most tedious part of THE EMPRESS GAME. They gave Rhonda Mason the chance to add more action scenes, but even with explanation I was never quite sold on the tournament as a way of declaring a ruler. The political machinations, however, were ace. THE EMPRESS GAME is a good choice for space opera fans who like a plot that moves quickly and don't mind a prominent romance subplot.

Sparks fly between Malkor and Kayla, even though they are unsure whether they can trust each other. Even more than herself, Kayla worries about her younger brother Corinth, who has been mute since the assassination of their family. Keeping him safe and avenging her family are her top priorities, followed by returning to her people. She's only invested in Isonde's scheme as a means to get where she wants to go. Malkor, on the other hand, is only invested in helping Kayla out in order to put Isonde on the throne and further his political agenda. However, the two of them might have more ideology in common than they first suspect.

I thought THE EMPRESS GAME could use a bit more emphasis on the space part of space opera, but that the complex layers to the characters' motivations were done very well. Mason has set up an intriguing system where almost all of the political opinions have some merit. I'm intrigued to find out what will happen in the second book of the trilogy.
Profile Image for Vero.
1,420 reviews9 followers
October 10, 2015
Very solid SciFi-Adventure. I enjoyed this story, I liked and felt with most of the characters - some very likable and some were more complex, like Isonda.
The pace was good and the world-building was done with some creativity, though it reminded me a bit of Star Wars (Episodes I to III) with the old-fashioned traditions and customs combined with fantastical high-tech.
I deducted a point for the bit lackluster romance part. I didn't feel the love. The feelings between Corinth, her little brother, and the protag was much much more visceral. That was an intense relationship.
I am looking forward to the next installment!
Profile Image for Charity.
216 reviews26 followers
July 16, 2016

This book was amazing. It managed to got me on board the train from the very first page, and by the end of the ride, I was left in a daze. Wow. I will definitely be reading the next book of the series once it comes out.

Really enjoyed the setting of the romance in the book. It was not rushed. It proceeds slowly and actually get a chance to develop, unlike some books that just left you thinking, "where did that come from." Plus, they actually say "I love you" to each other instead of just making out, and the major factor is both of them said it. Yes, not just one person, but the both parties that were involve both said it to each other. So sweet. Really liked that aspect of it.

The relationship between Malkor and Kayla is just so sweet. Really liked how they supported each other along the way, and learn to trust each other. Despite their unnatural meeting. I must admit thought, at first I don't really like Malkor, his attitude towards Kayla just keep on getting on my nervous, but don't worry, by the end of the book, I'm a complete fan of his. Expecally after the length he was willing to go for Kayla.

I also really liked the relationship between Kayla and Corinth. Just how they look after each other despite everything that had happened to them just touched my heart so much. Love the sibling relationship between the two.
Profile Image for Ctgt.
1,439 reviews82 followers
August 27, 2016
This was a pretty good story that was on its way to a solid 4 stars until the end. An unknown pit fighter is recruited to impersonate a princess in the Empress Game to crown the new ruler. I liked the background of our protagonist, Kayla and the tech that was used to allow her to pull off this con was interesting. This is a good popcorn type book with good action and some interesting political intrigue. But there was a flip flop with some decisions by Kayla at the end that I just couldn't get past.

Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book140 followers
July 20, 2015
Think The Hunger Games meets Double Star with a dash of Tristan and Isolde.

The wonder is not that I rated this book so low, but that I finished it. The setup is hokey, plot is derivative, and characters are cardboard. But I did read it all because Mason’s storytelling is wonderful. Her prose is compelling and just when you’re starting to wonder why you’re still reading this, she throws a curve.

Probably the only worse way to choose a ruler than heredity is combat. Oh, and all the contestants for The Empress Game must be royalty of some sort. So, the whole situation is doubly stupid. Oh, and the agency tasked to assure the integrity of the Games is subverting them, and that’s … good?

I am among the small minority not impressed by “kick ass” heroines. Call me old-fashioned. Combat is a waste of men; it’s doubly wasteful of women. Unless, of course, your society thinks so little of humanity that women and men are equally expendable. Or worse, their injury or death a source of entertainment. That said, Kayla is a likeable, loyal protagonist.

The opening chapters are a waste. If you read this book skip the first two or three. You won’t miss anything you won’t be told several more times and you can get right into the story.

The ending, on the other hand, successfully concluded this tale while drawing the reader into the next.

Quibble: This is not space opera, not matter what Mason’s friends said in their reviews. I’ve read hundreds of science fiction and fantasy novels. I love SF/F and space operas. Don’t be misled as I was.

Cover Art: any one holding daggers like that in a real fight will be dead in single-digit seconds. Presumably the critical design element was not the knives, but the bikini.

Mason is talented. She should apply her talent to better stories.

(After several days of reflection, I dropped the rating to two stars.)
Profile Image for J.L..
Author 8 books44 followers
July 15, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Nicole.
17 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2015
Loved this book. It has been a while since I've read a proper story filled with enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes. Can't wait for the next one.
Profile Image for Mieneke.
782 reviews84 followers
September 5, 2015
The centre of the cover and the absolute star of the book is Kayla Reunimon a.k.a. Shadow Panthe. I adored Kayla. She is a fantastic character, both as Kayla and in her persona of Shadow Panthe. Much of what defines Kayla and by extension Shadow, is her family past and her fierce protectiveness of her little brother, Corinth. Kayla fled her home world with Corinth after seeing most of her family killed by a traitorous scientist from her home system of Wyrd space. I loved the setup of the Ordochian Empire and their magic system. The most powerful Wyrd are born with telepathic powers and they are always born as fraternal twins in a girl/boy combination. The bond between the siblings is strong and to have it broken is intensely traumatic. This is why Kayla fixes onto her younger brother, taking the places of his twin and feeling all of the pressure to keep him alive and safe.

Once Kayla is recruited to be a body double for a princess in the Empress Game, she is forced to broaden her focus and allow more people in. It’s no longer just Corinth with whom she has a connection, but she has to learn to allow herself to care for other people too, most notably Malkor, Isonde and Malkor’s team. I loved the slow dance of her relationship with Malkor. For each step they take to close the distance between them, they both back away two more and they really have to work on communicating and allowing themselves to care. This is aided by the almost Arthurian triangle between Malkor, Ardin and Isonde, which though less tragic, is nonetheless clearly evoked is only through the resemblance of Ardin and Isonde’s names to Arthurian characters.

The characters in The Empress Game are wonderful, but the action included in the story is equally compelling. Mason includes several different layers of conflict in the narrative. The most visible one is getting Isonde on the throne and married to Ardin, which plays out both on the tournament fields and within the palace halls, but there are also the conflict between Wyrd and Sakien Empire and of course, Kayla’s quest to get revenge for her family. I found all of these gripping, but the tournament plot line was the most fun for me. I loved the ritualised combat aspect and the excitement of following the matches, scoping out the competition, and plotting their defeat either by combat or diplomacy.

Yet the central reason for the Empress Game – winning the council seat for the Empress Apparent – it did leave me with questions. What happened if the reigning monarch doesn’t have a male child? Or if the Emperor Apparent is gay? The heteronormative nature of this tradition is at odds with the fact that same-sex couples are treated as equal and unremarkable. Trinan and Vid, two of Malkor’s team members, are to all intents and purposes a couple, but it’s never explicitly announced, it just is, which would indicate this isn’t something shocking or uncommon. How then is this provided for in the rules for the Empress Game? It would have been interesting if Mason had addressed this in some of the exposition on Sakien Empire politics included in the narrative.

I found the juxtaposition of the combat in the tournament and the combat in the Blood Pit quite interesting. Both feature women fighting and both are cutthroat, but one is portrayed as a place where the women are in control and the other portrays women who have no choice but to fight, whether through circumstance or because they are slaves. The tournament features princesses fighting to gain powers and a prince, while the Blood Pit is nothing more than women fighting each other for the (sexual) titilation and gratification of men. Yet even at the tournament there are people who just attend the tournament for the excitement of seeing women fight. There seems to be a comment in here on the commingling of violence, lust, and power, which leads to some very problematic outcomes both in the culture depicted in the book and in our own.

Rhonda Mason’s The Empress Game is a wonderfully engaging and entertaining debut. A fantastic space opera tale, featuring fabulous world building and captivating characters, Kayla’s tale has great crossover appeal, being a fun read for both adult and older teen readers.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Profile Image for Patrick Scattergood.
Author 10 books14 followers
April 21, 2015
Visitors to this blog will most definitely have realised by now that I love a good ol' bit of science fiction. Book, movie, television show, I'm not fussed which form of media it takes as long as it grips me.

Well The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason is a book that falls in to that genre and comes with a fair bit of talk and hype around it. I must admit that I wasn't familiar with her work so I came in to this book with a fairly open mind.

Apparently this is going to be the first novel in a trilogy and it wastes no time in setting the scene for how and where the action is going to take place and boy is there a lot of action here. That's both a great point of strength for the novel and also one of the weaker links in it's armour. The action sequences here are well written and really give a sense of grandeur to the book, as do the descriptions of the settings. You really can picture the world that Mason has created in your head and that goes a long way in gripping in enough to want to see what will leap off of the next page. There are some moments that really felt like they would have been at home in a book from the Ray Bradbury era of science fiction writing yet retains Mason's voice very well.

Characters wise, there are some really ones here yet you also come away from the story thinking that nobody is safe. I love that sense of surprise that Mason has running through the tale itself as it really adds to the scenes of tension. I have to admit that there were a couple of characters that just seemed to be there as dressing yet they did what they were there to do and moved the plot along.

With a clear sense of action and adventure as well as memorable characters and set pieces, this is a science fiction / fantasy hyrbid that should hook in fans of the genre.

Story 7.5/10
Characters 7.5/10
Cover 7.5/10
Recommended 7.5/10
Overall 30/40
188 reviews27 followers
July 27, 2015

I'm in a space opera romance phase and to find female pov are pretty rare!

Kayla is a badass,loyal,strong,thoughtful,smart,rational,real character.. who have to deal with overwhelming situations and she makes wise choices!

Malkon is a great character with his own disputes and hard choices and his growth to understand where his loyalty should lay is amazing.

The book is action packed, so many different situations... the bloody pit, the empress game,political alliances,rescues,betrayals and of course, romance.

the romance is really well put because it only happens with them getting to know each other and its nothing from nowhere. And the fact that Kayla has to choose where her loyalties lie is amazing and real because romantic love not always prevail.

I was constantly heart broked with the storyline because those kind of situations with torture and experiments touch me deeply because remind me of WWII. I can only hope with the sequels,the author will show more of the affecteds growth into a "normal" life and make the remaining relationship between twin brother and sister understandable for her because of what happened in the end of the book.

loved. loved. loved.

can't wait to see the repercussions of all the characters choices.
Profile Image for Diana Botsford.
Author 6 books12 followers
June 29, 2015
Mason revives the space opera genre with a compelling, heart-wrenching, character-driven plot that will keep you on your seat's edge, turning every page long into the night. From the very first page we're committed to Kayla Reinumon's struggles to hide from a hostile galactic empire that had slaughtered her royal family. Barely eking out a life as a pit fighter on the fringes of the empire, her efforts to stay out of sight come into jeopardy when she's unwillingly drafted by a government faction to impersonate their favorite for the Empress Game – a combat tournament that makes the Olympics or a 10-ring heavyweight fighter-bout look like Saturdays at the playground.

The world building never bogs down in THE EMPRESS GAME. Instead, Mason manages to weave worlds, cultures, and nuanced politics into an intense, immersive, rollercoaster ride in which no one is safe – especially Kayla.
Profile Image for Ron.
891 reviews11 followers
August 25, 2015
I’ll try to describe this novel without using the done-to-death term “kick-ass.” There’s action, for sure, intrigue, adventure, and a dash of romance. (But not that swoony, hearts & flowers mushy stuff.) Characters (especially Kayla) are vivid and just off-center enough to be unique. Although it’s space opera, most of the action takes place planetside, but there’s so much going on you won’t miss it. The most refreshing thing I found about this novel is the subtle world building. No info dumps, every little tidbit delivered just when you need it and just descriptive enough. No overwrought lectures. The politics and intrigue are not overdone and rooted in understandable themes that contemporary readers can relate to. Fans of Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga will like this. And FYI, birefringence is a real thing.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
645 reviews117 followers
February 16, 2016
Quite enjoyed this, read it pretty quickly.
Despite other reviews, this is not about a fight to the death of the contestants (it's point-based sparring, with the best two out of three winning the match), and the winner of the contest does not become the ruler of the Empire. The winner marries the heir to the Emperor, and will become the Empress-apparent, but in the very complex political system of this empire, she will only be one member of a Council with 7 members. A lot of personal wealth and political power, yes, the new ruler of the Empire? No.
Looking forward to the next installment!
Profile Image for Tara.
146 reviews1 follower
August 23, 2015
OMG. This is the space opera I have been waiting for ever since I finished Elizabeth Moon's Familias/Serrano/Suiza series. This is a shining example of everything right about my favorite genre.
Profile Image for Morgan.
45 reviews15 followers
November 29, 2019
3.5 stars
This is a whirlwind of a book. The beginning scene started with a fight and though the book claims to have fighting as a major part of the story, the first one was without a doubt the best. The MC, Kayla is a badass princess who was forced to flee with her younger brother when the rest of her family was brutally murdered in front of her. The rest of the book revolves around her tale of triumph as a fighter and princess.

The book began with a bang, but lost me half way through. I feel like there was not enough time spent developing Kayla‘s character. By far shes the most interesting character in the book, but I found myself not caring what happens to her or her brother until the book was almost finished. It took that long for me to develop any feelings towards them at all. This is a plot driven book, and the story was good overall, however this lack of interest towards the MC left me feeling disconnected.

I have split feelings about the love interest, Malkor. On the one hand he has proven himself to be a reliable ally and confidant. He shows compassion and remorse for his past misdoings, however he is singleminded to the point of foolishness. He is willing to go to any length to obtain his objective. Going so far as threatening to hold Kayla’s brother hostage. Her brother, the only family she has left, the one person she would do anything for. He manipulated and schemed uncaring how it effected Kayla. He seems to truly care about the duo, but his care has limitations. Only if it benefits him. Although he did apologize for it and make up for this by saving her brothers life. Eh it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Another thing I took issue with is the jump between scenes. It’s so abrupt that it can be a bit jarring. Many times I felt there should have been more but the scene stopped too abruptly. It left me feeling unfulfilled.

I also must point out that the book ended on a cliffhanger. I am fully aware Th at this is the first book of a series, however I really dislike cliffhangers.

I did enjoy the first book in the trilogy, however I do not think I’ll be picking up the second one.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
Author 1 book132 followers
August 4, 2017
Okay so a surprising amount of insta-love, which I didn't see coming. For all the complaining grown up readers do about YA love triangles and Insta-love, I keep thinking I'll get more nuanced approaches to forgiveness and romance than I do.

Cool world, I care deeply about the characters (some of the characters), I want to know what happens next -- I'm just grumpy about the victory conditions of the ending.
Profile Image for Jordan Brantley.
182 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2016
Bookworm Speaks!

The Empress Game

The Empress Game Trilogy Book 1

by Rhonda Mason

Acquired: Barnes and Nobel Booksellers
Series: The Empress Game Trilogy
Paperback: 352 Pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Language: English
Subject: Fiction


The Story: One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled: that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat. Now the tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the women of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reunimon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena. 

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

The Review: This book kicks butt.

Both literally and figuratively.

This book breaks cliches and does a great job all the while.

Ever since the release of the Hunger Games, contests to win the throne, have become a mainstay. In here, it is done in such a way that it stands on its own. Princesses have long been pieces to be fought over by the usually male protagonist. Here…the pieces play themselves. The female heirs have to battle for their right to rule, no preened and perfect ladies here and no post apocalypse either.

Its unique setting and style sets this book apart from a lot of other books. The Space Opera aspect most of all, but it is actually rather downplayed as most of the action takes place on the home planet of the Empress Games. It still works though.

Kayla is about as far from preened as you can get. She is the lost heiress to a planet that was conquered by the very empire she is fighting for. This may sound familiar but it actually is written in such a way that you find sympathizing with both sides of the coin.

That is one of the main themes of the entire book: There really can be a good reason for anything and it is a very slippery slope. The trick is knowing where your line is.

She is a strong fighter but that is not the only good thing about her. She is determined to survive and protect her frail younger brother. In a lot of other stuff the opposite scenario is the case and kudos to the author.

But Kayla has to more than just fight. She has to travel the less direct, but no less lethal arena of politics. She has to balance on a knife’s edge trying to be two people at once. It gets even more complicated near the end.

Unfortunately, while this book breaks a lot of cliches, it also props up a few cliches that add to this book’s detriment.

First of all, the romance. Granted, the romance in this book is not unbearable and does not come to light until fairly late in the story, but it is in there and follows a certain path which is a large blow to this books rating.

What made Bookworm pickup this book was the fact that it starred a tough-as-nails female protagonist which is something popular media desperately needs. This book is a step forward, also a step back by the fact that Kayla winds up in bed with the main male character. It is not just any male character, its the one that she started out hating for getting her into this mess. We have seen a lot of that before and it doesn’t make that much sense. Why would someone fall in love with someone they considered an enemy? More importantly, it reflects a wider trend that is ultimately detrimental to the strong female protagonists: that she needs a man to get by, that all she needed was a little attention from the opposite sex to become the hero she needs to be. That’s not a very progressive way of thinking. What keeps the book from being put down is that it is not central to the bulk of the book and it’s fairly realistic. It would have been better if Kayla had fallen in love with another male (or female) character, not the ‘bad boy’ that she first meets.

Not every story needs a romantic angle in it.

Another thing not every story needs is its story following a familiar pattern.

***WARNING!!! Slight Spoilers Ahead***

In the latter half of the story, Kayla gets betrayed. While the author does a good job in making it a surprise, it is something to be expected in a story like this. Also, the ending is somewhat familiar as well. Neither of these things are poorly written. As a matter of fact, there is no clear good or bad side which is great.

***Spoilers End***

Final Verdict: The Empress Game is compelling debut novel with unique story and compelling female protagonist. The fact that it fell into some of the cliches of the genre and its somewhat predictable storyline kept from achieving a full five ranking.

Four Sai out of Five

Displaying 1 - 30 of 186 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.