Behind the Throne ended up totally something I wasn’t expecting but worked really well for me. The summaries have words like “action-packed,” and descriptions comparing it to Star Wars, yet the entire book is mostly court intrigue. Hail has been away from her royal family for the past 20 years because she left home at the age of 18 to pursue the killer of her father. She became a gunrunner for the most notorious criminal in the galaxy and she can fight or talk her way out of any predicament. Hailimi now has to return to her home planet to become the heir of the throne after both her sisters are murdered by organizations within the empire that want the current leadership ousted. She must survive assassination attempts, figure out who is responsible for the death of her sisters, and navigate the royal court intrigue. Luckily for Hailimi, she can use the same skills she learned to survive as an expert space pirate to be a princess.
I really enjoyed this book even though my expectations of what it really was about were thrown out. This is very much a story similar to The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, only in this story, Hail is more equipped to handle political intrigue. Hail is confident, out-spoken, and incredibly defensive of those that she cares about. This makes Hail an extremely likable character with some fun rough around the edges behavior.
What I appreciate about this story is how diverse the cast of characters are. The Indrana Empire is based off India’s culture because when space was colonized, different races volunteered to settle the stars. At this particular planet, the Indian women survived and set up a matriarchy empire. Because of this matriarchy empire, the gender roles are reversed in much of Behind the Throne. It is the men that are striving for more representation and equality while the women rule the state. There are many non-white characters, characters with varying degrees of skin color, LG characters, and many different descriptions of individuals with dreads or braided hair. The main character, Hailimi, has green hair that is in braids and wears Indian Saris.
I had a good time reading this because the book read at a brisk pace. The mystery of who is trying to overthrow this government drives the story along and this plot is written solidly. Yes, it is rather predictable, but where it isn’t predictable is the character relationships. My favorite part of this entire book was Hail’s relationship with her two bodyguards Emmory and Zin. Emmory and Zin are a male couple that is a part of an elite spy/guard like force that pairs up two individuals at a young age to work together their entire life, most of the time with them becoming intimate. At first, Emmory doesn’t trust Hail because Hail was thought to be a traitor, and she was in a relationship with Emmory’s brother. What is refreshing here, is that Wagers could have written a story about her main character falling in love with her bodyguard even though she was previously in a relationship with the bodyguard’s dead brother, and created a ton of drama because of that. Instead of doing that, Wagers took the more difficult path by making Emmory gay and exploring the theme of trust between Hail and Emmory.
Within this book, I felt that the descriptions when something surprising happened that Hail was a little too melodramatic. I also thought that the world building didn’t really add anything all that different and exciting. Sure, I loved the empire based off of India’s culture but I wanted more strange science fiction things in this book. One of my favorite things about reading science fiction is seeing how the culture of a different planet is really different than ours and there wasn’t a whole lot other than gender norms being flipped. Regardless, I really liked this book and I’m looking forward to the sequel. I am hoping in the sequel we have more space combat, larger stakes, and the war with an opposing empire becomes the focus. Check this book out, it is a great debut by an author that I think will stick around for awhile.
TBR Priority Rating: 6/10 – Read it before you forget about it.
16/25 Possible Score
4 – Plot
4 – Characters
3 – World Building
3 – Writing Style
2 – Heart and Mind Aspect