Hail Bristol wakes up face-first in a pile of someone else’s guts after putting down a mutiny on her ship — only to be discovered, to her great displeasure, by a pair of Trackers bearing bad news: Hail’s older sister and niece have been killed, and she is the last remaining heir to the Indranan empire. Becoming the next empress is the opposite of what Hail wants, but duty has called, and soon she finds herself back “home” and faced with a rapidly degenerating mother, an oppressively restrictive palace, and a series of attempts on her life.
This was such a fast-paced and engaging story that I couldn’t stop reading and finished in a day. I love a good space opera, and I’m always searching for one that gives me what I didn’t know I was looking for in the first place.
Behind the Throne certainly fulfills this need.
Hail is definitely the best part of the novel. She’s funny. She swears. She’s practical, preferring utilitarian clothing over basically everything royals are expected to wear, and when she’s scolded for not allowing her bodyguards to take out a would-be assassin, she puts her foot down about defending herself when at all humanly possible.
I also love the way that the book addresses not only who she is as a gunrunner (basically a glorified space pirate), but who she is as the heiress to the empire and as a woman. Her heart is broken over her loved ones who have been killed; she’ll never live up to her mother’s expectations or her sister’s legacy; she worries about fulfilling her duties not just to the throne, but her people.
And despite her complaints about the monarchy, she truly loves the people of the Indranan empire, and she understands she has a duty to them. This is possibly my favorite thing about the novel: while respecting Hail’s need to be true to herself, it also forces her to be true to her duty.
I also thought Behind the Throne was delightfully reminiscent of Rachel Bach’s Fortune’s Pawn and the rest of the Paradox trilogy. While Hail shares many of the qualities embodied by Devi of Fortune’s Pawn, I find her much more entertaining and engaging as a heroine, and I find Wagers’ construction of Indranan society absolutely fascinating.
While Behind the Throne addresses dark themes of familial discord and the politics of terrorism, it also addresses familial love and the duties of politicians for the people they represent in a way that really satisfies. I would recommend this novel for readers seeking a faster pace over density in a space opera as well as readers who seek female protagonists considered strong for reasons other than how well they can emulate men.
Behind the Throne will be available at your local independent bookstore and other retailers August 2, 2016.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Feliza Casano founded Girls in Capes and currently edits and writes for all sections of the site. In her approximate 2.3 hours of free time each month, she loves watching anime, reading science fiction, and working on her novels-in-progress. Keep up with her antics at felizacasano.com and follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.