I had the pleasure of receiving the Empress Game, by Ronda Mason in the mail from Titan. Titan is quickly becoming my favorite publishing company. Not only do they publish books at a respectable rate, but their books are always inventive and they possess a high quality of authors in their line up.
I have to admit the book didn't capture me at once and I began to worry I had grabbed yet another book geared for the YA market. That being said, for any parents that might be reading this, Empress Game is probably okay for your kids to read. It is not even overly violent, despite the gladiatorial aspect of much of the novel. The fights, unlike many, so called, YA novels are not to the death here. They just beat each other up pretty good.
This book had a slow build. The reader goes from unsure how they feel about the characters to falling in love with them and really hoping Kayla and her friends can pull off the impossible feat they are attempting. Near the end I found it difficult to put down when climax after climax hits the reader. You think the book should be over, but the last hundred pages just build and build.
Without giving away the plot too much, Kayla is a fugitive in hiding after her home world is attacked. After five years of fighting in a gladiatorial ring to keep her and her younger brother alive, she is asked to participate in the Empresses Games, but not as herself, a hologram will be fitted on her so she can fight for a princess who, in her own way, is seeking to help Kayla's people. She agrees to the mad quest and things just get tougher from there.
Mason does a great job creating a sea of characters and she is not wasting her time. Many of the people Kayla meets have a profound impact for both good and ill on her quest to see the right princess win the games. Soon the Empress Games almost fades in importance as Kayla becomes involved with multiple levels of conflict and intrigue.
If you like action, intrigue, and adventure, not to many downsides I can see with this book. If I had to point something out, it would probably be that the author makes a less than subtle attempt to keep this book YA friendly. I know there are reasons for this (Although I sure enjoyed reading 'adult' books when I was a teen), but I might have enjoyed Kayla more if she was a bit more mature and adult. I liked her love interest, but again it was a little too bubblegum for me. I would have liked to see a little more adult passion there. I am asking for sex scenes, but just a more adult understanding of what starting a relationship is like instead of an, opps, I guess we do like each other.
That aside, this book is a wild ride. The author keeps the reader guessing and just when things seem impossible, more challenges are presented. Kayla is a likeable and exciting heroine and the book was a real pleasure to read. I would read the next one (which I think should be coming) in a second.