Protagonist Kayla Reinumon is constantly thrust into distressing and perilous situations, such as being onboard a ship that is subsequently propelled into a minefield of space debris, or coming face to face with the one person who betrayed her people’s trust.
But never once does she descend into panic and forget her one goal – to protect her il’raar, her last surviving kin in the wake of a massacre that takes place on her home planet – and the only way to do that is to win the eponymous Empress Game tournament.
This description may seem to be slightly shallow at first, as the premise depicts a universe in which women are set against one another in arranged fights, which sounds like some kind of sadistic playground for the men or a Hunger Games copycat. But The Empress Game truly progresses beyond just the overused fight-to-survive female protagonist model in every way.
Never once do any of the women in the story have to grovel under the other gender; they are courageous, constantly evaluating their circumstances, decisive, strong in the face of danger, and empowered as a consequence of their training for the approaching Games.
It turns out that there’s a lot more to The Empress Game than just planets, space and fight scenes too. Rhonda Mason’s space opera debut already reads like a well-established series, despite being the first instalment – its universe is vast and detailed, featuring a convincing history and solid political background of various ruling councils.
This works in The Empress Game’s favour, alongside jaw-droppingly diverse locations and hyper-advanced technology dotted throughout, and there is a lot of unexpected depth to the characters as well.
Mason works wonders with these elements and the pacing, slowly weaving layer after layer into the storyline so that there is never a dull moment. Ultimately, this makes for a sincere, refreshing and page-turning first foray into the world that Mason has created.