TheHatchling#1 (aka my son) re-re-…-re-read the Murderbot series so many times, since he just couldn’t find anything that kept his interest, that I was actually very happy when he read and liked Six Wakes and then alerted me to the Indranan War series after he had read the first chapter that was printed as a teaser at the end of Six Wakes. We decided to do a buddy-read, which ended with TheHatchling#1 reading all three books and then nagging me to get started already since he wanted to discuss.
Since we want to avoid any spoilers we’re only reviewing the first book in the series, Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers, published 02 August, 2016.
Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive. Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir. But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive. A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .
The blurb is partly spot on, partly misleading. Yes, Hail is a sarcastic princess-turned-pirate/smuggler who’s been forcefully returned to her home planet, because someone is killing off the members of her family, the royal family. She’s the only direct heir to the Indranan throne left alive and is struggling to stay breathing with assassination attempts from all sides. Although it is more a story of “courtly conspiracy” rather than action packed space opera, the novel is intriguing, and thanks to assassinations, scandals and betrayals there is never a dull moment.
Hail left her home twenty years ago to hunt down her father’s killers. She embraced the life outside the confines of an empirical princess’ life so much that she became a gunrunner and furthermore captain of her own ship. When she’s dragged back into the palace, she not only has to confront her now ailing mother, whom she has had a troubled relationship with, but also cope with her grief for her sisters’ deaths and come to terms with her new role. Moreover, she learns about the role her long-time companion/lover played without being able to reconcile with him.
As mentioned above, the people behind the murders of her family are also plotting to kill her, which turns out not to be as easy as the plotters thought it would be. Hail swears to uncover the conspiracy and bring the culprits to justice.
What we really liked about this book and the following two books in the trilogy: The Indranan Empire is a matriarchal empire built on Hindu/Indian culture and mythology. It has been matriarchal for more than a thousand years which is obvious down to the swearing, Hail calls people out on their “cowshit” several times.
What this book is not: It’s not a Star Wars-style SF adventure/space opera. It’s more Urban Fantasy set in an SF environment; taking place in a solar system far from our current one, there are space ships and futuristic technology, and there are alien races. There are no epic space battles, we hardly see the inside of a spaceship, and Hail is definitely not a female Han Solo. Whoever came up with that comparison might not have read the book they were writing the blurb for.
The writing: It is a character driven story told from the first person POV, Hail’s. This might mean that you need some time to warm to Hail, especially since she has the tendency to be a bit melodramatic. Further the writing style of this debut novel is ‘a tad bit’ exaggerated, but we soon ignored that the world came crashing down around Hail and that the air was sucked from her lungs, since we were drawn in by the plot enfolding and the secondary characters being more fleshed out. And while we, along with Hail, learned who she can trust and who is nothing more than a two-faced sycophant, Hail also proved that she is a strong ruler who cares for her people.
4/5 Harpy Eagles from the both of us