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The Indranan War #1

Behind the Throne

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Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.

Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.

But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.

A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

413 pages, Paperback

First published August 2, 2016

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About the author

K.B. Wagers

10 books564 followers
K.B. Wagers is the author of the Indranan & Farian War trilogies with Orbit Books and the new NeoG novels from Harper Voyager. They hold a bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a second-degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu. A native of Colorado, K.B. lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains with their partner and a crew of recalcitrant cats. In between books, they can be found attempting to learn Spanish, dying in video games, dancing to music, and scribbling new ideas in their bullet journal. They are represented by Andrew Zack of The Zack Company.

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Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,978 followers
October 8, 2016
I wanted to think this might have been a vast empire-building SF epic, with spaceships galore and an underdog rise from the dregs, but no. Even the SF portions feel kinda tacked on, focusing more on taking a bit of world-building along the cultural lines and making a matrilineal succession the focus, instead, with an almost obligatory strong female cast to "round" it out.

In actuality, this is not really an SF except in the fact that it has cut and paste SF space-operatic featured over a very old "Princess-Turned-Pirate Returns to Court and Has Intrigue" Fantasy plot. I swear I've played this over twenty times in Japanese RPGs. But yeah, this is supposed to be SF, not Fantasy, right?

So what has the novel going in its favor? Bright first-person snark, fairly claustrophobic conflict, and decent interpersonal angst.

What could I have done without? A truly tired plot that is really just a slightly dressed-up fantasy in SF rags.

But what about the action? The intrigue? Wasn't that fun?

Um, yeah, it was okay. The action is something you have to wait for, and if you don't mind ferreting out traitors and dealing with the absolute terrors of being next in in line to a monarchy with all your siblings dead and mamma nearly so, then perhaps this is exactly the right kind of fairly-well-paced novel for you.

For me? I love my SF really juicy with ideas and innovation. This one just felt like it was a repurposed manuscript from the trunk of a paint-by-numbers Fantasy, sadly, with a politically-correct allocation of women and pasted-on cultural bits that were interesting in themselves but didn't leave me all that much to hold on to within the grand expanse of the novel.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the novel, and maybe not. It was very readable, but I just didn't enjoy it all that much. Maybe I've been spoiled by way too much truly good SF to be swayed by something like this, that feels flashy but doesn't have all that much real substance or courage.
January 15, 2021
Actual rating: 2.5 stars

So here I was, suffering from the dreary side effects of a Slightly Deadly In Between IA Rerererereads Mini Book Slump (SDIBIARMBS™) and not knowing what piece of crap book to DNF pick up next. Feeling most adventurous and stuff, I boldly decided to dive into the frightfully vast expanse of my TBR shelf and came upon this seemingly refreshing piece of Sci-Fi-ness. "Seemingly" being the operative word here. Okay, so it's not that the book wasn't vaguely entertaining and stuff, but invigoratingly stimulating it definitely was not. As for the Sci-Fi-ness of it…Highly debatable it is. But let's not get ahead of our little selves here. Besides, I am in quite the lenient mood today, so I shall focus on the positive aspects of the book first. There aren't that many, anyway, so you won't have to wait long before we get to the juicy, crappy stuff. You are quite welcome.

Part I: The Yay Stuff.

The really cool thing about this story? It is based on Hindu culture. Ha! The supposedly kick-ass lead is actually and quite absolutely Indian, too! Imagine that! Ergo, no Wholeheartedly White Whiteboard Whiteness (WWWW™) to be had here! And that in itself is gloriously fresh and stimulating and titillating and stuff.

So glad you approve, Gregor. Good doggie.

Yay Stuff #2, this society is a matriarchal one! Begone feeble men! We have no use for you useless bunch here! Well except for the, um, technical stuff, obviously. Okay, so the puny males in the story aren't that completely worthless but they don't have a say in shit anything and that it pretty stupendous, if you ask me. To be disgustingly honest, though, I have to say that the whole matriarchal business felt kind of forced. Girl power is decidedly wonderlicious, but it's nothing more than a gimmick here, somehow. As in, it's the latest cool thing to have women ruthlessly rule over hopelessly pathetic males *innocently waves at her testosterone-clad friends*, so let's go with that! Ergo, it feels bloody shrimping contrived. And revoltingly politically correct. Ew ew ew, yuck yuck yuck and stuff. Wait a second. I was supposed to talk about this book in a positive light in this section, wasn't I? Right. Thought so. Okay. Sure. I can do that, too. No problem. Let's get back to the good stuff! *tries very hard to think of something positive to say. Exoskeleton nearly explodes from the excruciatingly painful exertion. Gives up and grabs a drink of an alcoholic nature* Well, would you look at that! No more good stuff to talk about! Such a terrible, terrible shame this is.

Part II: The Hell Nay Stuff.

First of all, believe the hype blurb thou shalt not. So this is supposed to be a space opera. Allegedly filled to the brim with "action-packed space opera exploits."

It's funny, I was under the silly impression that "action-packed space opera exploits" were somehow supposed to involve, you know, action and also, you know, spaceship battles and stuff. But I was apparently very wrong. Who am I to know, anyway? I am naught but a clueless (if slightly nefarious) shrimp, after all. But anyway. Not only is this story a failed space opera wannabe, it is also a "Star Wars-style science fiction adventure!" With a female Han Solo!

I have an opinion about this but it's obviously very wrong again so I won't bother sharing it with you and stuff. Then again maybe I will. Star Wars? A female Han Solo? Seriously? I think even bloody shrimping Darth Vader feels deeply insulted here, and you know how he usually feels about Rebel scum. The supposedly "quick, sarcastic and lethal" Hailimi Bristol is a decaf Ewok at best. I mean, come on, the chick spends her time either crying or being on the brink of tears. Okay, so she does other, more proactive stuff sometimes: she whimpers, she has wonderfully entertaining pity-parties and she occasionally whines, too! But hey, it's not all bad. She giggles like a thirteen year old schoolgirl as well. What an eyeroll-worthy drama queen ass-kicking darling she is. And as beautifully caustic as a newborn dinoflagellate too! Watch out, Kate Daniels! Hailimi Bristol is coming for you!

I have a feeling His Furriness thinks Kate is not about to be replaced. I wonder why. The throes of young love, I imagine.

And what of the deliciously intriguing "courtly conspiracies" mentioned in the mouth-watering blurb, you ask? Surely they must be as delightfully backstabby as the whole Black Company series put together, you inquire? Do you really want me to answer that? I don't think you really want me to answer that. I mean, I'm pretty sure you do not want me to get ever so slightly pissed off, which would probably result in my unleashing my homicidally murderous babies on the world, which would in turn result in instant annihilation of all life on the planet (and its surrounding neighborhoods). So, what will it be? Want to satisfy your pointless curiosity? Want to die post haste?

Right. Just as I thought. Good call. You get to live another day. Lucky you and stuff.

All in all, and after giving it much harrowing thought, one might end up being of the wrong opinion that this is naught but Blah Blah Blah-Esque Crappy Urban Fantasy (BBBECUF™) disguised as "action-packed space opera exploits." Science Fiction. All in all, one's wrong opinion might be not entirely wrong.

» And the Moral of this Some Blurb Writing People Should Be Super Fearless and Heroic and Actually Consider Reading the Book They Have to Blurb About Oh Wow the Sheer Audacity of it All Crappy Non Review (SBWPSBSFaHaACRtBTHtBAOWtSAoiACNR™) is: want to read decaf, gluten-free, relatively sloppy UF in a space setting Science Fiction? Then by all means, read this book. Do NOT want to read decaf, gluten-free, relatively sloppy UF in a space setting Science Fiction? Then by all means, stay the fish away from it.

[Pre-review nonsense]

The blurb says: A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers.

I say:

➽ Full The Blurb for this Book Thou Shalt Not Trust Crappy Non Review (TBftBTSNTCNR™) to come.
Profile Image for Philip.
502 reviews673 followers
April 13, 2018
2.5ish stars.

A fast-paced, highly readable action novel that professes to be space opera but, as far as I can tell, only incidentally happens to take place in space.

Approximately 85% of the novel, told from the POV of former gunrunner Hail, transpires as follows in slight variations:

Thinking about my former lover/gunrunning partner, Portis (from my days as a gunrunner), brought all the universes crashing down upon me in a space-explosion that sucked the air from my lungs like a space-Dyson. I struggled to breathe and fought to keep the tears from gushing out of my eyes. "Get it together, Hail!" I said to myself. "A princess doesn't let anyone see her cry! Once a gunrunner always a gunrunner!"

It took every ounce of self-control I could muster to restrain myself from ramming my fist down my cousin's throat and ripping her liver out. Good thing I learned self-control as a gunrunner.

"Bugger me," I muttered then forced a Han-Solo-esque half-grin and made a witty retort to my ekam, Emmory, in typical gunrunner style. He didn't blink an eye, just slightly raised an eyebrow at me. He gets me.

All the while I was screaming inside my head, "You can't do this! You're not a princess, YOU'RE A GUNRUNNER! BUGGER ME!"

Plenty of melodrama.

The worldbuilding is pretty slipshod- insert Indian cultural influences, slap on some political strife, and ooh! Let's make it a matriarchal empire just to throw in some flavor! The characters were enjoyable in a basic, stock kind of way. Despite her dramatic nature, Hail is pretty BA. I enjoyed the anxious, tense atmosphere that came from not being able to trust anybody. Anyone, even a member of her own guard could be a traitor!

Once you manage to stop rolling your eyes, it's actually a lot of fun. The storyline is very simple and doesn't provide too much in the way of novelty but its streamlined nature allows it to move quickly and there's always something going on. I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I guess in this case the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

So, yeah, my first foray into space opera didn't actually hold a single spaceship battle. All of the action, aside from the first 10 pages or so, takes place on Hail's home planet. The end of the novel seems to set up some opportunities for some space fighting. Maybe in the next book we'll get a little more intergalactic intrigue?
Profile Image for Stevie Kincade.
153 reviews101 followers
October 23, 2016
(Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Hachette Audio lair)

Hachette Executive: All right then, what's next on the agenda?

Hachette Lackey: Well Sir, we need to cast a narrator for KB Wager's "Behind the throne"

Exec: Never heard of it

Lackey: It says here it is a "Star wars-style Science Fiction adventure". We are really excited about it Sir

Exec: "Star Wars" eh...Seems like a pretty obscure reference...maybe the kids these days will go for it...Male lead or female?

Lackey: The protagonist is a butt kicking Princess Sir

Exec: Ok good, so a straightforward narration then...Maybe see if that chick that did "Seveneves" is available? She was (drops voice 4 octaves) WAY COOOOOOL

Lackey: She is not Sir...Um can I say Sir, there seems to be an Indian influence in the book. Maybe we could get someone that is good at Indian accents?

Exec: (Chomps cigar thoughtfully) Indian Ay?...By George I like it! That is just the type of thing that these tree hugging Hollywood hippies will be into! I want the whole thing voiced in a "Pocahontas" accent! Did you see Sandler's Indian movie that thing was f*ckin great! Show it to our narrator! That's what I want!

Lackey: Um Sir...How do I put this?...We only have white narrators on the payroll, that might be considered a little...um "culturally insensitive" don't you think?....Also...a small thing Sir...the book has an EAST Indian influence...

Exec: ALL RIGHT DAMNIT have it all done in an East Indian accent I don't give a crap
(stubs out cigar)

Lackey:....Sir maybe...in light of our situation...with the umm...roster...we should just forget the Indian accents? It's not really THAT big a part of the book...


Lackey: (hangs head) I'll get right on it Sir

and SCENE!

If someone paid me to read an Ian M Banks book in a Scottish accent I would be more then happy to do it. Since I am not good at accents my "Scottish" would turn into "Irish" and then "Irish-Pakistani" as I tried to cover 16 different characters. It would suck. So I have nothing against Angele Masters for doing what she was asked. Her IMDB page shows an indie movie every 2-3 years so she could clearly use the work. I blame Hachette Audio for whatever screwed up process lead to the production of this audiobook.

I know Audiobooks are small time - but did we really forget #Oscarssowhite or the controversy over this turd:

Option A - Hire an Indian actor
Option B - Hire whoever and don't voice every single character in a terrible Indian accent
Option C - Do WTF Hachette Audio did with "Behind the Throne"

Somehow we got C

I'm not sure I have adequately communicated how bad the acting and the accents are in this audiobook. Master's somehow combined the South African accents of "Chappie" with Mrs Apu and couldn't even keep them consistent with the same character.

I played a minute of this for my Indian work mate

First he was like this:

Then he was like this:

The whole time I was listening like this:

So I am calling it early and presenting Hachette Audio with this special Golden Turd award for Worst Audiobook 2016

I am presenting Angele Masters the award for "worst character voicing 2016" for....:(opens envelope) OMG It's a tie! "Evil Cousin Princess' and "Old crazy Empress" share the award! We could not separate them!

And while I desperately wanted to give the award for Worst cover blurb to Gollancz for "Revenger" that was a sin of omission. The Golden Turd goes to Orbit for calling this slow moving Indian-themed fantasy in space a "Star wars-style Science Fiction adventure"

That is an astonishing 3 Golden Turds!!!

Seriously Han Solo was a smuggler and Hail is a gun runner...Princess Leia kinda kicks arse...so STAR WARS IS THE APT COMPARISON I guess?

So onto the actual book...No one is a bigger fan of the "Political/Court Intrigue...In Space" subgenre then me. I even like a *bit* of Star Wars. So I should LOVE this book.

I gave up a little over half way through when the evil-cousin-Princess and Crazy-arse-Old-Empress were having another convo and I was having a mild anuerysm and my spirit guides and power animal told me to STOP this negative energy in my life and load up the next book.

I *think* that somewhere in the print version is a 2-3 star book but the audio is a legit one star and I got over halfway through and found absolutely *nothing* that makes me want to buy the print version to * really get* this story.

Here is a summary of Wager's worldbuilding

*Indian influence - This amounted to some references to Shiva and wearing Sari's and some Indian names for characters
*Matriarchy instead of Patriarchy - totally *out there* cray-cray concept
*Refer to some powerful aliens who's religion holds them back from dominating the galaxy
*And...that's all I got

The prose was overwritten and treated me like I could not follow it's genius:

"Father, what is going on"?
Black eyes flicked to my bodyguards, then nervously back to me. "Not in the open child, even in this temple things said reach more then just the gods".
Translation: we were being watched, but by whom?

Oh our reluctant Princess is such a handful!

She was right of course, I kind of wanted to smack her senseless but I wouldn't kill her, that would just be RUDE. Not to mention it would immediately elevate me to a position I didn't want

Wagers loves her Melodrama and could barely resist the urge to imbue every scene with MASSIVE FEELS

Her use of swearing smacked of a lack of belief in the reader's intelligence. "My mother" had to be "My f*cking Mother" so we UNDERSTAND that strained relationship with her Mother.

Do yourself a favour and get a CJ Cherryh book instead
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
August 31, 2016
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/08/31/...

This was a tough one to rate. I devoured this one, so you know I really enjoyed it and I want to make that clear. It was quite different from what I expected though, perhaps more political in nature than action and adventure-oriented, and calling it “Star Wars-style science fiction” might be a bit of a stretch. Still, Behind the Throne is a special kind of gem, and would appeal to readers who appreciate story structure, unique cultures, royal court intrigue, and subverting tropes. It’s also a fast and fun book, gradually building and hooking you in by degrees until it’s impossible to tear yourself away.

First things first: score one to this book for starring a gun-running smuggler princess. Twenty years ago, Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol ran away from home and took to open space, sloughing her royal identity for a new one in order to hunt her father’s killer. Even though her mission ultimately failed, she’s never looked back, opting instead to travel the galaxy for reasons only known to herself, becoming one of the empire’s most notorious gun smugglers in the process.

However, that life suddenly comes crashing to an end when Hail is intercepted by elite Trackers and forced to return home to her family. Or what’s left of it. It turns out, her sisters and niece are dead, likely victims in an assassination plot, leaving Hail her mother’s sole remaining heir to the Indranan throne. With no other choice, Hail reluctantly takes on her new responsibilities, if nothing else because she is determined to hunt down those responsible for her sisters’ deaths. Later though, she finds that being Heir Apparent is even more dangerous than gun-running. Secrets and shadowy plots and lurk everywhere beneath the surface, and to make things worse, Hail discovers that her mother the Empress has been afflicted by an incurable illness that will soon force her to give up her rule. As Hail struggles to insert herself back into court life, she finds she has become a target of assassination herself, making her quest to uncover this conspiracy all the more urgent.

Despite the publisher blurb describing this as an action-packed space opera, I would caution against going into this expecting lots of space battles, raucous adventures and daring exploits. There is some of that, but it comes mostly at the end. I would say the second part of that blurb promising “courtly conspiracy” is probably more accurate. That’s not to say that the action and all-out galactic war won’t come in the next book, because I honestly feel the story is building towards that direction, but this first installment is primarily focused on politics of the royal family.

Some might hear this and feel reluctant to give this book a try because they think politics are dull. While I concede that some political science fiction can be very dry, I can assure you this is not the case with Behind the Throne. To the novel’s credit, the story is very engaging, featuring the juiciest kind of court intrigue as you can imagine—betrayals, assassinations, secrets, scandals and the like. The world-building is also handled deftly by Wagers, who infuses her universe with enough culture and history to give the conflicts within these pages significant context. Everything feels rich and connected, making me feel that these characters really matter, or that what happens in the story can indeed have a great impact on the rest of the galaxy.

This is also a very character-oriented story, written in the first person perspective so we’re given a front row seat to all that is going on. I confess I did not warm to Hail right away, in part due to her tendency to get overwrought or melodramatic when she reacts to any kind of news. Wager’s exaggerated writing style may have something to do with this, as there were quite a few hammy descriptions in the intro lone where the world always seemed to be crashing down around our heroine, or the air was constantly being sucked out of her lungs. However, I gradually came to look past this as the plot progressed, following Hail back to her home planet with her Tracer escorts Emmory Tresk and Starzin Hafin. I liked how her relationship with the two of them slowly evolved from open hostility to mutual trust, as Hail quickly comes to realize who her true friends are in a court full of hidden traitors and groveling two-faced sycophants. Standing in defiance to all those who doubt her, or think less of her because of her criminal past, Hail proves to everyone that she can be a strong and effective ruler who cares for her people.

Audiobook Comments: I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to review the audio edition of Behind the Throne. As audiophiles well know, one of the biggest downsides to listening to speculative fiction books in this format is the inability to know how to spell any of those crazy fantasy and science fiction names! In addition to the world and characters of the Indranan War series being heavily inspired by Indian culture and mythology, there are also other names of people, places, technology, ideas, and other space-faring societies described in this book that I had to look up in a print version to know how to write them correctly. It’s not really a huge problem for me, but if you know that this is something that frustrates you, it might be worth picking up the hardcopy.

As for the narration, I thought the reader Angèle Masters delivered an impressive performance, especially as she had to maintain an accent through the entire book. That said, it was not always consistent, and there were inconvenient moments where this was distracting. These are definitely things to consider if you have the choice between print and audio, and depending on your preferences, your mileage will vary. As for myself, I found it enjoyable enough, and probably won’t rule out the possibility of tackling the next book in this format as well.

Bottom line, I had a great time with this novel, despite going in with very different expectations. I think the next book will be more in line with what the book description advertises, with more action and adventure featuring our protagonist relying more on her experiences from her old gun running days to save the empire. I look forward to the sequel After the Crown to see what new tale K.B. Wagers has in store for us.
August 9, 2021
(NOTE: Read and reviewed August 2016. Updated in 2021 to reflect my current review standards + fix author pronouns.)

I really wanted to like this one. I loved the idea of the gunrunner princess dragged home to rule with no romantic sub-plot in sight. Alas, what I read was a mess.

The Good
– Gunrunner princess is an A+ concept
– Indian-centric SFF
– No romantic subplot
– Queernorm world
– Attempts to say something

The Bad
– I have the sneaking suspicion Wagers created this entire universe to showcase Emmory and his hubby
– A very bad execution of a matriarchy
– Supporting cast was weak, shallow, half-assed
– A perfect example of "show, don't tell" done very wrong
– Internal monologue hell
– Pacing hell
– Flashback hell

Story—★★☆☆☆ (1.5 Stars)
To start: I have a hard time classifying this as Science Fiction and it only barely qualifies as a Space Opera. I think a much more accurate description would be "Political Fantasy set in Space." The Magical Healing Space Elves already come built right in. It's fifteen minutes with the "Find and Replace" button on a word processor away from being categorized as "Indian-inspired Political Fantasy."

The plot suffers a lack of direction and critical revision. Wagers flashes back to waaay too many relevant elements instead of incorporating a natural way. It would take a bit of hefting, but a single additional chapter at the beginning—possibly showing Hail's relationship with Portis before his death, or dealing with a crew member with AVI flutters (drug-related tremors)—creates room for smoother world-building elements, strengthens her grief for Portis' death, and adds weight to events later on.

The pacing is an absolute mess. Hail's barely been at the palace for a day around the 35%/40% mark and then it's suddenly three weeks later and Pratimas. The events in the book are only halfheartedly connected. Hail drifts through political meetings and spats with her mother, occasionally interrupted by random assassination attempts. There is no "web of plots and assassination attempts"—it's a few strings tied together with a limp knot. And no, attempting to lampshade it with "I suspect that's part of why the attempts on your life since your return have seemed desperate and disjointed," does not change the fact that so many plot elements are a disconnected mess. Don't get me wrong, I love the concept—the criminal princess unwillingly dragged home to the court life she hates, only to rally and come to stand strong for her people—but when it came to the execution, Wagers focused on too many flimsy and irreverent components.

Outside of her unending internal dialogue, I did like Hail as a character, and her character arc was decent, if nothing special. I loved how we got a character in her late 30s whose narrative didn't revolve around romance.

I hated Emory—he was an arrogant bully, and I hated how Wagers set him up to be "right" in these matters. (It doesn't help that Emmory is very clearly Wagers' precious darling favourite.) He emotionally manipulates Hail on multiple occasions. He dismisses her protests when his actions make her uncomfortable. Example: during the first third, when Emmory grabs Hail's arm when she enters a room.

Nal and Zin went in. I started to follow, only to be brought up short by Emmory's hand on my arm.

"You really want to find out what happens when you grab me again?" I asked dryly.

"When you learn to wait, I won't have to do it anymore. I'm your Ekam, and I'll grab you if it means keeping you safe. You're a princess, not a gunrunner," he countered. "Let your BodyGuards check it out first, Highness."

"They're my rooms!" I stared at him in shock. "If I'm not safe here—"

"Your sisters were murdered, Highness, one of them potentially in her rooms. Right now our job is to assume nothing is safe." He cut me off with a wave of his gloved hand. "Now will you stop arguing with me so I can listen?"

Every single one of his actions, including Wagers' crappy excuses for them, trouble me. Emmory might be dedicated to keeping Hail alive, but he doesn't respect her.

The rest of the cast suffered from weak, one-sided characterization. Characters like Ganda, Nal and Laabh were more caricatures than proper characters. Empty, predicable, boring.

Writing Style—★★★☆☆ (2.5 Stars)
Behind the Throne is told in first person, past tense, from Hail's point of view.

The writing suffers from the same lack of critical revision as the plot. It's not necessarily raw or amateurish, but it lacks the grace, precision and efficiency of a practiced hand. Hail's narrative rambled around. Paragraphs lacked diversity and were often short and composed of only one or two overlong sentences. Wagers' use of vocabulary was decent, but not used to its full effect. There was tons of exposition, awkwardly delivered by Hail, and often after the fact—too many opportunities for hints and foreshadowing were missed entirely. Hail notices her mother's tremors and then immediately has a flashback—and oh, god, is Hail prone to flashbacks—which "helpfully" points out her revelation to readers.

The biggest problem is Wagers didn't know when to say nothing at all. So much of their writing is pure bloat. It is the worst combination of showing vs telling gone wrong. Example: Hail's grief. Instead of showing Hail's grief through her actions or with efficient, visceral descriptions, Wagers opts for Hail rambling on and on and on about her grief and anger. They describe Hail's grief like hot metal piercing her heart, or more dramatically—where her heart will fall out of her chest and shatter on the floor. Or the baffling time Hail's nerves crawled into a corner and die. If the reader needs to stop and think about a specific sensation (needle in heart, nerves in corner) instead of a common, relatable one (throat closing, shaking, weight on chest) it pulls them out of the narrative and divorces them from the character's experience.

In contrast, there are much too many useless scenes and descriptions Wagers labours through that they could've easily summed up in a concise sentence or two. Even in the last chapter, we have to read a useless paragraph of Hail putting pants and shirt on, and how easily they flowed on her. What did that contribute to the story? (Nothing. It contributed nothing. Axe it. Kill your darlings. Wake your editor up.)

Themes and Representation—★★☆☆☆
Behind the Throne's culture is rooted in South Asian culture, specifically Indian culture. I do not know if Wagers is Indian or even South Asian. While I love the idea of a Sci-Fi civilization focused on Indian culture as opposed to a Euro-Centric one, I am white and most of my knowledge comes from high school world religion and culture courses, so I admittedly cannot judge how honestly or accurately these elements were conveyed.

However, I will comment at length on Behind the Throne's matriarchal society and Wagers' attempt at subverted gender discrimination! For starters: it adds nothing meaningful to the plot. It feels like a half-assed inclusion. While it should be interesting to explore a matriarchy born from a time when most male settlers succumbed to space madness, Behind the Throne just doesn't. What it has is a couple of snide comments about Emmory as her Ekam and Hail thinking things like, "The inequality, the absolutism that bred contempt and hatred for a whole group of people simply because of the accident of their birth." In truth, it seems like Wagers hasn't done enough research on matriarchies, nor do they fully understand the depths and nuances of systematic gender-based discrimination and oppression necessary for a believable and functional matriarchy.

Behind the Throne's matriarchy makes no statement on the social climate unless that statement is, "ANY kind of gender discrimination is wrong!" which is a bunch of watery bullshit that offers no relevant insight regarding sexism or misogyny. Indeed, since Wagers never explores any nuances or microaggressions, they instead accidentally reinforce current gender roles and discrimination. Behind the Throne does not exist in a vacuum, and by trying to defy convention within the narrative, when Emmory takes a position traditionally held by a woman, Wager only succeeds in replicating reality. Furthermore, it doesn't help that Emmory selects only men for Hail's primary BodyGuard team and defends it with "I'm choosing the heir's Guards based on their qualifications, not their gender," because in real life, women are overlooked in favour of men with identical or fewer qualifications than them every day.

(Also, if Wagers isn't Indian and is attempting weak commentary on the issue when patriarchal standards and the oppression of women and girls is a real, concerning issue in India? Poor taste.)

While I loved, loved, loved the queernorm world and casual inclusion of gay characters, the representation was kind of messy. Of Hail's childhood BodyGuards—Tefiz and Ofa—Ofa is dead, and Tefiz only makes a sad, brief appearance. (Seriously? The world did not need more dead lesbians.)


Recommended For...
Readers who don't mind pushing through a messy execution for a good concept; readers interested in protagonists in their late 30s.

Profile Image for Chris  Haught.
576 reviews214 followers
May 20, 2017
I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars, and I'm going to round it up. Why? Because even after I worked all week and had a lot of things to do around the house last night, I stayed up until 3 am to finish this book. I could barely walk to get to the bed after I finished, but I did it. And really enjoyed the whole experience.

This wasn't as detail-rich or epic scope as most of the top ratings I give, but when a book hooks you from the word 'go' and keeps you racing through pages and unable to put it down, that counts for something. I mean, that's why we read to begin with, isn't it?

Definitely looking forward to the next book(s) in this series.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,264 reviews222 followers
October 4, 2016
The Indranan Empire is an interstellar civilization under a hereditary matrilineal monarchy. It's also under attack with nearly every immediate member of the Empress's family assassinated in a short time. The only one left other than the Empress is the black sheep of the family, princess-turned-gunrunner Hailimi Bristol. With the Empress ailing from a dementia-like illness, Hail is dragged back to the Empire very much against her wishes.

Once returned, and as the new imperial heir, Hail finds herself mired in court politics and assassination attempts, and she urgently wants to find out who killed her sisters. The Empire is vulnerable to internal struggle and a long-term peace treaty with the nearby Saxon Empire looks to be failing as well.

For me this had a really clumsy start, with just about everything prior to Hail returning to the Empire feeling like it needed at least another editing pass. However, once into the Indranan society the book takes a sudden turn for the better. The Indranan society is a multicultural one with primarily Indian-based cultural norms and dress, but organized as a matriarchy with matrilineal families and inheritance. There's strong religious influences, primarily Hindu, but with churches that feel Christian. There's unrest around the role of men in society and a supposed caste system, but neither of these have much impact in this book where most of the action is within the palace itself. There's some eyebrows raised when the new heir has male bodyguards, and most of the positions of power are held by women, but other than that, we don't see a great deal of discrimination.

Hail herself is also quite interesting, with considerable guilt regarding leaving her sisters and disaffection towards her mother. Her return to the Empire is initially about finding her sister's killers, but as the book proceeds she takes on much more of the responsibility of the heir.

This one is a bit hard to review in some ways. There's a really solid story here, with a well-constructed world with interesting issues and characters and lots of challenges to overcome and a solid plot. However, the execution is a bit lacking, with a lot of tell rather than show and too much repetition and particularly repetition of some clunky terms. There are parts of the book where "gunrunner" feels like it's used on every page. I'm fairly sure even actual gunrunners don't use that term. Likewise "space madness". On the tell rather than show, we never get what Hail's gunrunning actually involves, and while we hear that men are repressed in Indranan culture and that there's an oppressive class system, we really don't see much of either.

I would give this a 3.5 star rating marked down for execution.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,030 followers
December 23, 2018
An Indian civilization in the future that's female dominated & still follows the Hindu religion to some extent made the setting interesting even if the heroine was a bit too good & the plot was obvious. The black sheep of the family comes home to set things right & it turns out that the wandering is exactly the right training. This explained her ability to read people & situations unerringly. OK.

It could have been a fun romp, but everything was always very serious, nothing really lightened the mood. The constant attention to her feelings of guilt & inadequacy got old. There was quite a bit of detail that could have been edited. I think it was a 12 hour read & 8 would have been just fine.

There's also a romantic thread which was just too coincidental & hard to take, but it did add to the interpersonal tensions. I guess it wasn't all bad, although I groaned when it was first revealed.

All in all, not a bad read & the next 2 books in the trilogy are available. I might get around to reading them, but they're not at the top of my list. This book resolved things well enough which I appreciate. Well narrated even to the accent.
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews186 followers
August 20, 2016
Basically: this is the book you're looking for *Jedi hand-wave* if you have an Ancillary Justice-shaped hole in your heart. Or if you miss the good Dune books but want something more readable. Or if you're dying for Rogue One to just get here already. For everyone who enjoys an excellent soft (in the genre sense, definitely not in the content sense *wink wink*) science fiction romp. Political maneuvering
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,889 followers
August 18, 2016
4.5 stars
Behind the Throne, K. B. Wagers’ sci-fi debut, fell into my hands after much praise from some of my most trusted peers. To describe my experience with it as love at first chapter would not be an exaggeration at all. Discovering books like it and pushing them at unsuspecting readers is why I took up blogging in the first place. It gives me great pleasure to share my delight over this title with all of you.

Behind the Throne starts with a bang and continues in an unrelenting pace. It is set in a distant future, on one of many human colonies in space. The Indranan Empire relies somewhat on our reality, namely Indian culture and beliefs, but it’s really present only in traces that allow us to connect more easily. Although it neatly falls into the science fiction category, the first Indranan War book reads a lot like fantasy, which is to be expected considering the atmosphere and the political intrigue.

I’ve seen Behind the Throne compared to books like Queen of the Tearling, but the comparisons are vastly unfair. Although I enjoyed the first Tearling book, Behind the Throne is a much better work in every aspect, starting with the quality of writing and ending with the protagonist. Hailimi is a heroine like no other – tough, ruthless and sharp-witted. As the runaway daughter of the Indranan Empress, she wants nothing to do with the throne, but when the responsibility falls on her, she accepts it and does a fantastic job of it. She can be soft, kind, and even insecure, but she rises to every challenge and constantly displays an air of not-so-quiet confidence. It’s rare to find a protagonist like her, unapologetic and confident in every situation.

Hailimi isn’t a heroine that prevaricates or dawdles in any given situation. She chooses her course swiftly and decidedly and she follows through until the end. She accepts and even follows advice of her trusted guards, but in the end, she is aware of her own worth and confident in her abilities. These days it’s tough to find a heroine like her, someone who doesn’t doubt herself on every step of the way. I could see myself following someone like her blindly and even dying to protect her, for the good of the Empire.

Wagers does an equally excellent job with her side characters. A lot of love and effort was put into Emmory, the leader of Hail’s guard. His partner was equally well crafted and the two together provided much needed physical and emotional support for our heroine. There are several others that stood out, the most complex being the empress-mother herself.

Hailimi falls into the snake pit that is her mother’s court as the only remaining hope for the empire. She wants nothing to do with it, but she suddenly has to play if she is to save her family’s legacy. There are so many obstacles ahead of her and very few people she can trust. The plots to undermine her are complex and very well done, with enemies coming from all sides and friends ready to betray when least expected. While the book is strongest in characterization, plotting doesn’t fall behind, and all of it is laced with a wicked sense of humor that makes even the biggest tragedies bearable.

Behind the Throne needs little help for me since its success is practically guaranteed. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book, and this one will make a fan of anyone who touches it. Trust me when I tell you it will make a fan out of you, too.

Profile Image for Justine.
1,134 reviews309 followers
October 5, 2016
3.5 stars

This book definitely improves in its second half, enough so that I'm interested in reading the next book and seeing where the story goes from here.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,614 reviews192 followers
February 11, 2017
Totally escapist, political intrigue-heavy fantasy about an empire on the brink of war, a gunrunner/princess dragged back home to said empire in the wake of the murders of three members of her family and the ailing head of her family, her mother the empress. Lots of action with an interesting premise, that the planet on which most of the action takes place was settled by people from India, and after many years, became a matriarchy. Hail Bristol, gunrunner/princess, is unhappy being back home and her mother the empress of Indranan, seems unhappy for her to be back, with Hail's green hair and gunrunner reputation.
Hail very soon gains two Bodyguards/Trackers, who had brought her back home, and these two guys are an interesting pair. Clearly caring deeply about each other, they are both highly competent, and manage to provide Hail with the protection she needs as someone is clearly out to eliminate the royal family.
I went in with no expectations about this book, and enjoyed it. It's a fast read and there's plenty going on as the author presents us with various factions who are not happy within the empire. As this is the first of a larger story, there is still much left up in the air at the end of this book. Should be interesting to see what happens next in the impending war between the Indranan empire and the Saxon Conglomerate.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews183 followers
April 10, 2017

"Spoken like a consummate politician, Highness. One would think you've been doing this for years."
"I have, Caspel. It just involved more guns."
Whatever your expectations may be, I suspect Behind the Throne will probably defy them. When I first started reading, misled by the flowery descriptions of eye colors and muscle definition, the careful note of each time the characters touched, and the derogative-yet-highly-descriptive portraits of the protagonist's beautiful clothing, I was quite worried that I had picked up a romance. However, for those of you who are also not fans of that genre, never fear: while the flowery description may occasionally give you pause, the book is absolutely devoid of love triangles and passionate glances. In fact, thematically, it's a thoroughly enjoyable mix of space opera and worldbuilding scifi flavored with a taste of mystery. I'm a huge fan of detective fiction, and even when they're less "whodunnit" than "whatyagonnadoaboutit," I still love the structure and focus on character that I think a mystery component brings to a story.

Despite an ongoing obsession with urban fantasy, noir, and heist stories, I'm paradoxically conservative when it comes to characters, and I was never really quite sure how I felt about the protagonist. Hail escaped her royal upbringing to become a gunrunner. The book focuses only on the badassery of the career and never really questions its morality. However, I personally couldn't get over the opening scene, where we see her in a room of corpses of her making. Gunrunners profit by inflaming wars and selling death. By their very nature, are rulebreakers who show a disdain for law and life. Personally, I'd want someone who is vying to be leader of a constitutional monarchy to question their past of illegality and pure bloodthirsty villainy. Hail isn't an honourable rogue. She punishes those she likes without trial and without due process, and yet her stalinesque savagery in a world of laws is never questioned.

The most controversial and memorable aspect of the book is probably going to be the creation of a female-dominated society. I found it thought-provoking, but not in the way the author intended. Personally, I think this book does a disservice to a discussion of sexism because the sexism here is so superficial. We're told that in Hail's world, the equal rights movement was taken "too far" and men are now considered inferior and forced into a lower role in society. That's what we're told, but in reality, men show absolutely no subservience or deference to their female "superiors" and are utterly unlimited by legal chains or glass ceilings. In our era, most of the sexism we encounter centers around objectification, tokenization, and glass ceilings, but this story supposedly happens in an even more sexist pre-lipservice era that would probably be more comparable to our 1890s. So where are the enforced gender roles and vicious stereotyping based on faulty pseudoscience? The characters occasionally make (forced, artificial) asides such as " men are not capable of the kind of responsibilities ", but they don't add any analogues to the specious biological arguments that cast women as smaller-brained, logic-deficient, emotion-driven, hysteria-prone weaklings, not any arguments that men are subordinate because they are biologically suited to be subordinate. Sure, I appreciated the occasional touches like describing a woman as " chatter[ing] like a schoolboy " but apart from a very few artificial attempts at creating a culture of ingrained sexism, I think the author mostly forgot about her attempt at a reverse-sexist culture.

In fact, even the gender gap itself was missing. Even though we're supposedly in a female-dominated world, women still seem to be caregivers and child-rearers. Men seem to be able to take on any career they desire, and they're often casually mentioned as the breadwinners. The attempts to demonstrate ingrained sexism were absurdly artificial. Take one conversation where Hail's male bodyguard accuses her of suspecting one man "Without any proof? Why? Because he's a man?" Well, I don't know, maybe it's because he's a man, or just maybe it's because they've just watched him attend a secret meeting with dissidents and killers. Within the book, the Director of Galactic Imperial Security, an admiral of the military, the prime minister, the head guard for the empress, the most elite of trackers, and even business owners such as a successful restaurateur are all men. The head of the resistance and the ruler of a rival empire are both men, yet no one objectifies or dehumanizes or attributes sexist stereotypes to them. Seems like the only thing a man can't do in this world is become emperor, and considering there are additional non-egalitarian genetic requirements for that anyway, I wouldn't consider an inability to become emperor much of a glass ceiling. Men of the society don't seem limited to me, and describing this as a sexist culture discounts the much more virulent sexism that women of our world have faced and even continue to face.

Behind the Throne is definitely intended to be the start of a series, and Wagers has left herself a lot of worldbuilding to explore. The story takes place in a planet-spanning empire: I want to know more about the industry, the tech, the exports that keep the lifestyle we see afloat. How do the colonized worlds feel? Do they welcome the Saxon empire? Do they seek true independence? How much say do they have in the government itself? I was rather fascinated by the blending of Hinduism and Catholic traditions, and I'd love to hear more about the religions of the world. I really appreciated the various same-gender couples throughout the book, which should have been particularly interesting given the supposed sexism of the culture, and I think this is worth further exploration in future books. We're briefly introduced to an alien species who have incredible healing capabilities, and while they mostly turned out to be a plot device in this story, I think they deserve deeper examination. The worldbuilding may have felt a bit flat for me, but on the other hand, this leaves a lot to expand on in the sequels. The true power of the story is its compulsive readability. No matter my criticisms, it was genuinely difficult to put down. If you're looking for something fast and fun with a bit of worldbuilding thrown in, Behind the Throne is definitely worth a look.

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

Cross-posted on BookLikes.
Profile Image for Gergana.
227 reviews391 followers
Shelved as 'zzz-books-not-for-me'
January 29, 2019
INDIAN CULTURE IN SPACE!! I loved it! It was something we don't usually see in Sci-fi, but unfortunately, if you replace a few words (spacecraft >> ship, planets>>territories, etc.) you realise it could just as easily be a periodic fantasy.

Why would that be a problem? It's not, it's a perfectly fine book with missed opportunities to challenge our mindset and show how humanity's psychology has evolved with such discoveries. It also felt a bit too long for me. And the heroine, although quite strong and clever, whines too much and lets herself be poisoned/hurt way too often making half of the story quite repetitive.
So I'll just use this opportunity to share some other similar books that resonated better with me:

Foreigner (Foreigner, #1) by C.J. Cherryh
Foreigner by C.J.Cherryh
If you're looking for an AMAZING sci-fi book series with lots of politics, interracial relationship and, best of all, BODYGUARDS - then this series is for you. True, the protagonist is just a translator between two species who are "trying" to live in peace, but boy do things change so quickly after each book. This series have some of the best plot twists, clever scheming, hilarious cultural barriers and most dangerous bodyguards ever!

PS: I absolutely adored the bodyguards in Behind the Throne, which is why I'm recommending Foreigner.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells
All Systes Red by Martha Wells
What if in the future people hire robots as bodyguards and one of those robots becomes rogue? What would he do? Watch soap operas of course! Oh, while still trying to protect his clients from dangers and...themselves. One of my favourite authors creates one of my favourite Sci-fi books.

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1) by Octavia E. Butler
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Disturbing, thought-provoking and impossible to put down. Set in the future where humanity has destroyed itself and their planet and a few selected ones are resurrected by alien species for some mysterious reasons. It's an exploration of the human psyche and our ability to deal with change.

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
A classic, that is actually accessible and not too difficult to read. I actually can't find the words to express how brilliant this book is in terms of ideas. So I'll leave it up to you to decide

All the Science-fiction books I've read and loved before have always asked some really uncomfortable questions. As a race we are always striving towards perfection and improving ourselves whether it's through technology, changing our behaviour or the social system. But what if we've achieved all this, what would be the things left behind. Or what would be the new challenges we'll have ti deal with?
I guess this is the question I'm missing in Behind The Throne. Like I said, it feels more like a periodic fantasy with a few "Space"-words thrown here and there.
Or maybe I've been really spoiled by a handful of books. XD
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,820 followers
April 5, 2017
You know....this is the second time I got this out of the library and the second time I've sent it back. I forgot, thus I mark it "read" here but plan to pick it up in "actual book" version later. This is only about the "audio version".

I love audio books, they make it possible to "read" as you handle other things that leave the mind more or less free. But sometimes the reader is bad or as in this case make incomprehensible decisions. Angele Masters for some reason chose to read this book in what seems to be a thick Russian accent. I've heard her read other books...the accent is...well as I said it's a choice.

It's also highly annoying and makes the book more of a chore to listen to than a pleasure. Put it aside and really can't comment on the book's quality. Wait until I actually read it.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews128k followers
February 8, 2017
A sci fi novel with an Indian lady lead, based on Indian culture? I was into this book, the first book in the Indranan War trilogy, from the first second I heard about. Wagers builds a rich and fascinating matriarchal culture, complete with a main character who’s a gunrunner when we first meet her. We quickly learn that Hail is actually a princess who’s trying to escape her destiny. But home comes calling, and Hail returns to find her mother, and her kingdom, much changed. It’s exciting, breathless fun, and though I felt some unevenness in the main character, I can’t wait to meet her again in the sequel (also out now!)

–Swapna Krishna

from The Best Books We Read In January 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,234 reviews170 followers
October 26, 2016
Behind the Throne is an easy and entertaining read.

The idea of a rogue princess is not a new one but it works. Hail has left her planet for a particular reason, living as a gunrunner for the last 20 years and making a 'reputation' for herself. However, with the Empress ill and her sisters and niece recently murdered, Hail is brought back to fulfill her role as heir.

The blurb is misleading since this story is nothing like Star Wars, nor are there any space battles. Really, did they read the story before writing that? No. What we have is an entertaining political intrigue with yes some action scenes. Wagers puts together an interesting multi-ethnic feudal civilisation, a matriarchy in this case, where LGBT relationships are accepted. However she seems to focus only on the 'aristocracy'. I would have liked to see more of the Indranan world, how it functions at all levels, but we only get glimpses. The story is indeed very much centered on the mystery surrounding the murders of Hail's family and the threats to the throne and empire.

The choice of having a 38-year old woman of colour as the main character is a good one. Hail is easy to like with her harsh manners and reticence to be responsible for millions of people, although sometimes inconstant. I did enjoy witnessing her problematic relationship with her mother, and banter with her trackers. Emmory and Zin in fact stole the show in my opinion, and I'll probably read the sequel to find out more about them.

So, not a groundbreaking novel but a quick and engaging story that kept my attention to the end.

Profile Image for RG.
3,090 reviews
May 16, 2021
Re read as a friend advised thisbeas his fave series but I needed to get to book 2. Kinda have all the same feelings below. It's not really space opera as its more fantasy set in space with a tonne of political intrigue.

A very easy and quick read. Not overly complicated and definitely not a scifi novel. Yes its set in space, but I think thats the extent of the scifi. Its more a fantasy whodunit terrorist thriller. A young lady has escaped her past, becomes a gunrunner, but due to circumstances on her home planet, she must return home to be the rightful heir. From here it becomes pretty standard and cliched in story. If youre a big fantasy fan you would have probably have read this type of novel before. I did enjoy the 1st person POV. Ive always loved storytelling from this view. The main handful kf characters are solid, but dont really stand out as amazingly new to the genre. Theres no real game changing world building or concepts, nor are there any real complicated science. Its pure adventure and the fact that space is involved is secondary. Its not a bad book by any means, it still flows really well, and can easily be read in 1 sitting if you have time. Its just bot overly original. It has a few twists some you expect and some that make you a little intrigued. Give it a shot if you enjoy adventure fantasy novels but set in space.
Profile Image for The Tattooed Book Geek (Drew). .
296 reviews617 followers
August 4, 2016
As always my fellow bookish peeps, this review is also available on my blog: TheTattooedBookGeek.wordpress.com

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Well, I think I did, the book just arrived in the post, I hadn't requested it, didn't know I was on the publishers mailing list and I don't remember entering any competitions to win it either! So, let's call it a surprise book.......and what a great surprise it turned out to be!

Behind the Throne is the first book in debut author K.B Wagers The Indranan War series and willbe followed in December 2016 with book 2: After the Crown. And, I can't wait!

In short, Behind the Throne tells the story of Hail/Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol who twenty years previously had left home searching for her father's killer, becoming one of the most renowned Gunrunners in the process, staying away from Indrana even after she had lost the killers trail. Only to be found at the start of the book by Indranan trackers and after being reluctantly persuaded by them returns to Indrana to take up her place and role as the only remaining heir to the Indranan Empire.

The world building is of a high standard, both the history and culture of Indrana is explained in decent detail really drawing you in to the created setting. In a lot of books, women are oftentimes objectified as being less than men, second class citizens so to speak with lesser roles and voices to the far more standard male dominated society. Behind the Throne turns that on its head with females dominating the Indranan society from the Empress, to the Matriarch council to the high ranking roles throughout the society. An example wouldbe that Hail is given a male Ekam (primary bodyguard) and this is seen as a slur as men aren't equal to women. Now, as a male myself, did this bother me? And the answer is, No, it did not. I will admit it wasn't what I was expecting but then again the book in general wasn't what I was expecting either and turned into something far more enjoyable. I felt having a female dominated society made for a refreshing change. Now, men do still play key roles in the book, not every character is female and some of the best moments come from the social awkwardness between Hail and her male bodyguards as she tries to get them to stop following procedure and treat her as a person instead of just a title.

And, for me, apart from Hail the two best characters in the book were male, Emmory Tresk and Starzin Hafin. Emmory is Hail's Ekam, her main bodyguard and protector and is at the start a very stoic and serious character. Alongside his tracker partner Zin, they both really make the story shine as the gradual thawing of their stoicism, seriousness and professionalism with Hail leads to some of the best camaraderie and interplay in the book often times making you smile at Hail's insistence on informality, sarcasm and attempts at banter with Emmory and Zin's very formal and respectful ways. They are opposites and play of each other really well developing a strong bond throughout the book that goes far deeper than simply bodyguards and their charge at the end progressing to mutual respect and I would say friendship.

Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol, yes, that name sure is a mouthful, but luckily it gets abbreviated to Hail for the most part is a great choice for the main character and story to be built and focused around. As the reader, Wagers really makes you understand her motivation for both leaving and staying away along with her reluctance to return to Indrana and reticence to go back to the life she left behind. As the story progresses, you get to know Hail and she turns into a character who's fate you really grow to care about.

On the back cover, it describes the book as 'begins an action-packed new series.......'. And, I went in with the idea that I'd be reading an action centric story full of guns and space battles. But, what I got was something far more involving than just a 'action' book. The action scenes are all well written but while there is plenty of action, it isn't the core of the story, you also get betrayal, family, politics, plots, assassination attempts, conspiracy, intrigue and suspense all added and thrown into the mix. Behind the Throne is to me, a very character driven book, focusing on Hail and her journey from the Gunrunner she is to the only remaining and rightful heir of the Indranan Empire. Giving you a well written, fast paced and captivating page turner of a book featuring an engaging main character.

Behind the Throne is more space opera than hard sci-fi and is an accessible read for all. There is both a lot to take away from and like in the book for both sci-fi fans and readers like myself who don't generally frequent the genre. It's a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, finding it to be a read that is full of suspense, humour and action with some great characters and exceptional storytelling.

While deftly concluding and finishing of the part of the story that is Behind the Throne, Wagers only scratched the surface with some aspects of the characters, their motivations, the world and its goings on. And, of course there'll be the fall-out and repercussions from the events that took place in the books conclusion.

I'm now a fan of the series and as such I'm eagerly awaiting the continuation of Hail's journey to find out what adventures await her, Emmory, Zin and the rest of their cohorts in After the Crown book 2 of The Indranan War!

In her debut Wagers has created a great start to a new sci-fi series that I hope does well, as it fully deserves to be a hit.


On a side note, I'd really like to read about some of Hail's previous exploits as a Gunrunner and feel that there's a lot of entertaining material there if the author ever decides to go in that direction and write some prequel novellas.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books538 followers
April 10, 2017
Loved this book and didn't want to put it down. This space opera novel has it all: a strong female lead, solid action from page one, incredible world-building with a far-future civilization descended from India, deep characters, and plenty of material for future books, too. Speaking of which, I'm ordering the sequel today because I NEED to know what happens next.
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,133 reviews98 followers
December 29, 2020
So, I’m a bit taken aback with this one.

Hindu culture in a space opera! Hell yes. I was here for it. Hidden royal? Yes! Bring on fantasy elements in space.

While the banter and snark is this book is a lot of fun...It’s really all we get. It took until about the 70% mark before any of the action happened. And yes, the MC is retrieved in the beginning after her sister is murdered since she’s now next in line to the throne.

However, after that, it’s a whole lot of tell with very little showing. I honestly kept forgetting we were in space because we just kept talking about all of the issues going on without ever actually seeing those issues play out.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is fun, but it’s incredibly surface level.

And, I’m so sick and tired of the phrase “bugger me”. It’s said about every other page.
Profile Image for Tammy.
837 reviews138 followers
September 5, 2016

The nitty-gritty: A story with lots of potential that fell short with a less-than-interesting plot and awkward writing.

(Apologies for this longer-than-normal review, but apparently I have a lot to say about this book!)

There’s always going to be the “next” book after you read something amazing, and for me, Behind the Throne will always be the book that I read immediately after The Obelisk Gate. I’m not sure if my reaction would have been different had I read it at a different time, but I know I probably wouldn’t have read with such a critical eye. I fell in love with this cover, and the story blurb promised “action-packed space opera exploits,” but for me, the story just didn’t deliver. The idea of a princess-turned-gunrunner who is forced to come home and take over as Empress was an appealing idea, but the lack of actual action made this a slow, and dare I say, boring read for me. But there are plenty of readers who loved this book—just check out the Goodreads ratings and see for yourself—and clearly it wasn’t all bad, as you can tell from my three-star rating.

Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol left home twenty years ago in order to track down her father’s killer. Since then she’s been a gunrunner alongside her partner—and lover—Portis. When the story begins, Portis has just been killed and Hailimi has been discovered by an Imperial Tracker named Emmory who has been sent to find her and bring her back home. Hailimi, it turns out, is actually the daughter of the Empress and is next in line to take over the throne, and Emmory and his partner Zin are determined to fulfill their duty, despite Hailimi’s protests. When Emmory explains that both of Hail’s sisters have been murdered and she is the only heir left, she reluctantly agrees to accompany them back to the palace.

But when she arrives, Hail discovers that her mother the Empress is gravely ill, and before she knows it, Hail is being groomed to take over the throne. But a group of radical dissenters is determined to keep her from ruling, and Hail finds herself caught up in a plot that will bring down the Empire that her family worked so hard to build. With assassination attempts around every corner, Hail must navigate the dangerous world that she left behind many years ago and try to figure out who is loyal to the royal family, and who is not.

I want to start off on a positive note, because there are some really great elements to this story. First of all, I loved that Hail is an older protagonist, and not the twenty-something princess that you usually encounter in fantasy stories. Hail is thirty-eight—nearly forty!—having left home at eighteen in order to avenge her father’s death. Now, twenty years later, she’s made a satisfying life for herself as a gunrunner and even fallen in love. The fact that she does not want anything to do with being a princess proves that she’s happy with her new life away from the palace. For the most part, she’s a confident woman who has been taking care of herself for the past twenty years and is reluctant to start wearing royal clothing and taking orders from her mother.

I also loved the idea that this is an Indian-based world. The colonists of the planet have brought the culture and beliefs of their ancestors to their new planet, and I loved the sprinkling of Indian words and descriptions of Indian foods. Hailimi is forced to wear saris in the palace, a wonderful nod to Indian culture. I even imagined that the palace was similar to the Taj Mahal, as Wagers describes the architecture as being ornate with turrets and archways.

Other futuristic world-building elements fascinated me, like the idea of a “smati,” an implanted device that allows people access to an internet-like world of information and communication.  We're also given glimpses that this world is huge, a multi-planet system where space travel is the norm. Unfortunately, most of the action (and I use that term lightly) takes place in the palace, and so we don't get to see the breadth of Wagers' world.

Hail starts out as a kick-ass woman who deliberately puts herself in dangerous situations, but once she gets to the palace, her can-do attitude turns into nothing more than bluster. Sure, she can swear up a storm and order people around, but I found myself annoyed that she needed so many people to take care of her. She requires maids to help her get dressed, BodyGuards to remind her to eat and tell her she ought to be taking a nap, and a “chamberlain” to organize her hectic schedule of going to various meetings and events. She also tends to injure herself and faint a lot, all which led to the steadfast Emmory having to pick her up and carry her like a damsel in distress.

As for the other characters, I was surprised how much I loved Hail’s mother the queen. She starts off as an evil stepmother-like figure, treating Hailimi like the ungrateful daughter who ran away from her duties as princess, but later in the story their relationship grew in depth, and it ended up being my favorite relationship in the book. I was also curious about Trackers Emmory and Zin, a “bonded” pair who have been together for years. Wagers doesn’t give us much information about just what “bonded” means, but there are hints that they might be romantically involved. I really wanted to know more about their relationship, and I hope the author delves more deeply into it in the next book.

After reading N.K. Jemisin’s lovely prose, I have to say Wagers' writing style just didn’t work for me. Many of her sentences are awkwardly written, and because this story is told in first person through Hailimi’s voice, we’re subjected to her constant use of slang and melodramatic exclamations. By the second chapter, I was seriously tired of the phrase “Bugger me!”, which Hail spouts non-stop throughout the book. Some of the expressions she uses are ridiculously overwrought, like “A meteorite crashed into my chest and lodged itself there, burning me up from the inside.” And “I lost a piece of my nerve, and watched it skitter over the floor, where it curled into the corner and died.” Ummm…

Although I normal enjoy court intrigue and mystery, I just couldn’t get excited about the plot of Behind the Throne. This was very much a “talky” story, in which the characters spend a great deal of time sitting around talking about what they are going to do, and trying to figure out who is behind the plot to bring down the Empire. The action scenes are few and far between, and the majority of the story takes place in the palace, as Hailimi and her BodyGuards go from one room to the other, discussing this or that. Hail spends an inordinate amount of time changing clothes and drinking her favorite drink, blue chai tea. These endless discussions are punctuated with attempts at killing Hailimi, but even these welcome action scenes felt forced and didn’t flow with the rest of the story.

In fact, I realized early on that the story that should have been told was the one that had already happened. Hail remembers her times on the ship with Portis in flashbacks, and I would much rather have read a story about the two of them, in space, on gunrunning adventures. Although Portis is dead when the story opens, he felt more real to me than some of the actual living characters.

After listing all the issues I had with Behind the Throne, you may be surprised that I plan on continuing with this series. This is K.B. Wagers’ first published book, and although it could use some polishing and editing (in my opinion), I think this series has a lot of potential. There is so much more I want to know about this world, and I hope that After the Crown, which comes out this December, delivers on the action and adventure missing from this story.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. This review originally appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy

Profile Image for Kara-karina.
1,660 reviews253 followers
September 26, 2016
This book was so much fun, ladies and gents! A delightful space opera the likes of Paradox series by Rachel Bach with a sassy, tough, gorgeous badass of a heroine who is like Kate Daniels of sci-fi genre.

Hail is a smuggler with a very dangerous reputation, but what the majority of people don't know is that she is a runaway princess, the youngest in succession to the throne of Indranan Empire. Then someone tries to betray and slaughter her on her own ship and her mother's Royal guards finally catch up to her with horrible news - her sisters are killed, her mother is terminally ill, and she is the heir to the throne.

There is just so much juiciness to this book. Hail herself is the heroine I always pine for - ruthless, quick-witted, sarcastic, cynical, self-assured, cocky and with a theatrical flair.

Then there is the Empire itself. It's rooted in Indian caste culture and mythology, with matriarchy and women ruling in every aspect of life. Most of its rebels are men who want more equal representation. It's rich, provocative and adds to a a very interesting world-building.

At last, there is a barrage of complex secondary characters, both heroes and villains. The first book is just the tip of the iceberg which sets the parameters of the narration and it's done with precision, with lack of infodumping and interspersed with much action.

Overall, a fantastic, quick read, highly recommended!

* * *
Как же мне было весело читать эту книгу, дамы и господа! Она напомнила мне серию Парадокс от Рэйчел Бах с крутой, саркастичной, безжалостной героиней наподобие Кейт Даниэлс, только в космосе.

Хэйл - контрабандистка с очень опасной репутацией, однако практически никто не знает, что она сбежавшая принцесса, младшая наследница трона Индрананской империи. Когда кто-то предаёт её на её собственном корабле и устраивает бойню, чтобы её прикончить, нагнавшие её Королевские Гвардейцы наконец-то передают ей вести из дома: её сестры убиты, её мать смертельно больна, и она - единственная наследница престола, оставшаяся в живых. Ей нужно вернуться домой.

В этой книге так много сочных моментов! Во первых, сама Хэйл - героиня, которую я всегда ищу. Циничная, хладнокровная, безжалостная, с острым чувством юмора и склонностью к театрализации когда ситуация того так и просит.

Во вторых, Индрананская империя основана на матриархии. Женщины правят во всех областях жизни, пока мужики играют вторую скрипку. Кстати, мятежники империи сражаются за равную презентацию полов во всех областях жизни. Корни империи в индийской культуре, мифологии, религии и кастовой системе, и от этого она получается яркой, уникальной и провокационной.

В третьих, книга построена с военной чёткостью. Всё обрисовано кратко, ясно и без огромного количества ненужной информации. Второстепенные персонажи сложны и интересны, как герои так и злодеи, и построение мира разбросано между стремительными сценами экшна, характерными для сюжета.

В общем, читается на лету, очень интересно, рекомендую!
Profile Image for Bryan Alexander.
Author 4 books278 followers
April 20, 2019
Some books are easy reads. Others are even easier to get through. This is one of those books that gently sets you down on a soft couch, makes a soothing drink and sets it at your elbow, plays relaxing music in the background, fluffs your pillow, and murmurs into your ear: "You are right to read this. You deserve it. Don't feel bad. It's a good thing. Smile. Have some popcorn. Shut down that brain. Ssssshhhhhh."

Behind the Throne looks like a space opera and a story of intrigue, but really isn't either. It concerns the heir to an interstellar empire who, after a time slumming as a gunrunner, is summoned to succeed the empress. 99% of the novel is that succession, meaning our heroine meets people, is sometimes shot at, swears unimaginatively, has repetitive conversations with indistinguishable characters, and emits some ideas we're told are brilliant and that nobody else has thought of.

I made it through the book by dint of two reasons. First, our local sf book club read it, and I wanted to participate. Second, two worldbuilding ideas peeped forth from the narrative tedium. Women run the space empire and it's somewhat Indian in culture. I had hopes that these ideas would become interesting, but they never did. The matriarchy (it's called that) doesn't matter; you could randomly assign genders to nearly any character without changing a thing. Indian culture doesn't matter; it just means a few Indian names for things, plus a couple of Indian outfits worn by the heroine.

I wasted time reading this book, and feel sad as a result. So let me identify one point of potentially broader interest. The novel's protagonist is aristocracy, the heir to the throne. This is not a problem, politically, as we are encouraged to cheer her on as she ascends. We learn, briefly, of a few people who think empires aren't necessarily the best way to organize human relations, but they are thrust to one side and are probably villains.

This kind of pseudo-feudal imagination has long run through American science fiction, and it fascinates me. Why do we long to impose the ancien régime upon the future? Rarely is this done thoughtfully, as when in Dune Frank Herbert imagined a social structure predicated on certain technological structures (The Mote in God's Eye does something similar). Instead, American sf typically dreams of a cod-medieval future as a way to express our long-standing longing for aristocracy. Our lower-case-r republicanism never fully uprooted out colonial heritage, as can be seen from the American South's feudal landowning to today's celebrity culture.

A book like Behind the Throne exemplifies this. Our heroine is simply awesome, clever, wronged in just the right ways, and deserving of power. The narrative allows no other position. Instead, it festoons that politics with a few world-building dollops and then invites us to enjoy the jockeying for power among aristocrats.

Keep an eye on this kind of sf politics. You'll see more. But avoid this book.
Profile Image for MrsJoseph *grouchy*.
1,011 reviews83 followers
November 15, 2017
I really enjoyed Behind the Throne but not for (all) my usual reasons. I was a little skeptical in the beginning - Haili IS a runaway princess and that's trope-y from beginning to end - but this was a runaway hit for me. I like that Haili isn't a push over, she is decisive, she's incredibly loyal, loves hard and tries to use her brain. Love all of that. Her backstory is rather flimsy to me but it's acceptable. I also rather enjoy the relationships of the BodyGuards & Trackers.

But what really peaked my interest was the world building. It's...strange and exotic and not completely explained. The Universe seems to be incredibly diverse, which is lovely. There are no questions of sexuality which I love as well - married same sex couples are mentioned but not exclaimed over - clearly a normal part of their empire. I also love that it's a Matriarchy as well - though I could deal without the reverse sexism.

I have to wonder the history of the empire - the founding was touched on very briefly and never explains the rich Asian (seems to be mostly Indian with a light smattering of Chinese) background - including the bright colors, rich fabrics, lush embroidery and copious amounts of gold jewelry. They also seem to worship [some of?] the Hindu pantheon with Shiva and Ganesh being the gods I recognized immediately.

To find such a heavy specific influence in a Space Opera mixed with casual diversity and homosexual representation all wrapped in a Matriarchal bow just fascinated me. I loved how intricate it all was.

Another thing that makes Behind the Throne a surprise read for me was the sheer amount of action. From the first page almost to the last, Behind the Throne is pure action. There are numerous assassination attempts on Haili - and when people aren't trying to kill her physically, they're trying to kill her politically. And when that's not happening, Haili is dealing with her mother. Let's just say there is a reason Haili had to be be dragged back to the empire and it wasn't politics.

And through it all, I learned to really love Haili and the way she builds relationships. I love how bloodthirsty she is. Haili is a girl that hasn't met a fight she didn't want to get into (and that she planned on winning).

"Poor [redacted], you need to keep up." I spread my hands wide. "You didn't think this through. You really should've killed me first. Leaving me to the end..." I tsked and shook my head. "Obviously that wasn't a wise decision."

I am SO reading book #2: After the Crown .

Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,405 reviews292 followers
August 9, 2016
There were many cool things about this book. Ohh let's make a list!

First we have a kick-ass gunrunner, smart, sassy, and she is actually a runaway princess. And now heir to the throne, ohh drama!

Second it's sci-fi, which is always cool. Not so much space-ship stuff, mostly land and tech stuff.

Third, this empire is one ruled by matriarchs. Go girlpower! Of course that is not perfect either since men do not get the same chances as women, but as a storyline I love it. Women are all in charge.

Fourth cool thing is the culture, it's Hindu, yes other things too, but the first settlers must have been from India. As in religion, manners of speech, dress, just a nice mix of things. Of course someone who actually knows about India might not like it, but for me, this is the future. Things have surely gotten mixed up on the way there. They are on a planet far far away of course. And you have to think that other cultures have blended in too. I just liked what I got.

The story is, someone is after her, since her family is dead. Who wants to bring down the empire? And she will not rest until they are found. Of course now she is also to be Empress, a former gunrunner. A well known criminal. Oh I like it.

Action, politics and I do look forward to the next one. She will keep the Empire on its toes.
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