Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers. ★★★1/2
Behind the Throne isn’t super deep, but this science fiction novel is a whole lot of fun.
For the last twenty years, Hailimi Bristol has been traveling the galaxy making a living as a gunrunner. But Hail was born a princess of the Indranan Empire, and now she’s being dragged back home. With her sisters dead and her mother sick, Hail is desperately needed as an heir to the throne. But her sisters didn’t die by accident, and it will take every scrap of cunning Hail has to survive, find out who’s murdering her family, and protect her empire.
The basic concept of a royal living outside the court suddenly brought in as a potential heir is a fairly familiar concept, although I tend to see it more in fantasy than science fiction. Think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or The Goblin Emperor. Behind the Throne isn’t the best variation of this plot line I’ve seen, but it isn’t the worst either (I’m looking at you Queen of the Tearling). This plot type meant the book was more political maneuvering than action thriller, but the political conspiracies were occasionally broken up by assassination attempts.
Hailimi is a fairly typical Strong Female Protagonist – a badass fighter and snark master. While she might not have been that original or complex, she was fun to read about. The same could be said for the other characters, although I wish she had a closer relationship with one of her female bodyguards. I did like the Admiral character though, and I appreciated that this is a female led book with no romance subplot.
My only other note on characters is that I wish Behind the Throne could have been more upfront about the relationship status of her two most prominent bodyguards, Emmory and Zin. I hate when stories get coy over whether characters are queer or not. I think at the very end of the book they did get referred to as husbands, but it was a blink and you’ll miss it sort of thing.
I also think the world building could have been more fleshed out. The Indranan Empire was matriarchal and there were a few mentions of a cast system, but basically all of the power structures of the culture felt like they were told and not shown. This definitely wasn’t the best matriarchal science fiction I’ve read (try Kameron Hurley instead). I would have loved to see more of the gender norms of the culture were – what was considered feminine? What was considered masculine? There were a few references to how men were supposed to be quiet, but that was about it.
While I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject (and would love a link to a review by an Indian reviewer talking about the subject), I felt like the Indian cultural influences were sort of tacked on to the usual European monarchy set up. It felt like the author had read a few Indian fashion blogs and maybe a Wikipedia article on Hinduism and called herself done.
If you’re looking for a mindless, fast paced science fiction novel with a female lead, this is the book for you. I don’t know that I would ever reread it, but I did enjoy it and am planning on reading the sequel.