I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers
Series: The Indranan War #1
Published by Orbit on August 2 2016
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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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.