Kayla Reunimon harbours a deadly secret; she and her brother, Corinth, are the rightful heirs of their planet Ordoch, a planet in Wyrd Space, and potentially the only survivors of a deadly military coup initiated by the Sakien Empire's International Diplomatics Corps (IDC). In order to protect them both they have escaped to a backwater planet where she gets by on the winnings from the Blood Pit, a fight-to-the-death tournament that pits woman against woman. Her cat-like stealth and ability to put on a show earns her the moniker Shadow Panthe, and it is this skill that Malkor, leader of an IDC octet, needs to ensure that his friend Princess Isonde, wins the Empress Game.
Rather than being allowed to marry her lover Prince Aldrin, Isonde must undergo fighting in the Empress Game, an ancient ritual set up primarily for the pleasure of the (predominantly male) rulers. The prize? As well as being allowed to marry her lover, Isonde would gain a seat on the Council of Seven - the sovereign body overseeing the Sakien Empire. The winner of the Empress Game has the power to influence political decision making as an ambassador and political player. If she can convince the crowds as a body double and win the seat for Princess Isonde, the promise of cessation of the military occupation of Kayla's home planet is assured. There are no guarantees that the fight will be easy for this gladiatrix; every eligible woman in the Empire desires membership of the Council of Seven.
Alongside the main narrative, the subplots that run throughout offer an opportunity for spinning future stories to explore - a deadly, incurable disease carried by nanoparticles threatens the ravage the entire empire, other worlds and their exotic differences are introduced through some of the women who fight Kayla, there is an entire back story of the formation of the Council of Seven and how the IDC "civil servants" became corrupted (and who these antagonists are). There are many parallels to contemporary western society in this novel, which makes the novel all the more intriguing and the situation and characters sympathetic. Ending on a brilliant cliff-hanger, this fast-paced, feminist-tinged, intelligent novel from Rhonda Mason is (hopefully) the opener to a brilliant science-fiction epic.
INFO: THE EMPRESS GAME / AUTHOR: RHONDA MASON / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 10TH