It’s common knowledge that space opera is one of my favorite genres, I have a soft spot, a weakness, a need to lose myself in that variety of adventure story. Since I also have the same soft spot for Westerns, and space operas are quite often described as westerns in space, the connection makes sense to me.
“The Indranan War” Trilogy by K. B. Wagers is an epic space opera that nicely falls into my wheelhouse: a fierce fighter, outcast from her family and choosing to rebuild her life on her terms, outside of the societal constraints that had previously been too constricting for her free spirit, driven to right a great wrong by a sense of justice and revenge, and unafraid to use her criminal career experience and less-than-savory connections to achieve those ends.
An outlaw cowgirl pursuing a vendetta with her own posse to help her get the job done. Or in the case with this story, a space pirate with a fleet and a target.
In Behind the Throne, our saga opens with our heroine trying to regain her bearings after being caught in an attack on her ship. Under her gunrunner alias, Cressen Stone, she’s stunned, not knowing whether the attack could be a mutiny, or an ambush by a rival. But when she recognizes royal trackers in the team rescuing her, she realizes her situation could be worse than she’d imagined. The last thing she wants to do is go back to her former life — as a crown princess and an heir to the throne of Indrana — but after 20 years on her own and in hiding, she’s about be to dragged back to her mother, kicking and screaming.
On the trip home, Crown Princess Hailimi Bristol learns that the trackers had no choice but to find her and bring her home, because she is the last remaining heir to the throne. With her two sisters having just been murdered, and her mother slowly failing due to an undetermined illness, she is the last option to maintain succession, and Hail begins to wonder if the attack on her ship might have been connected with the other assassinations.
Of course, in addition to doing her duty as crown princess, she begins an investigation to uncover the people and the organizations behind the attack on her family. It’s an expanded version of the one she’d left home to pursue alone: to find out who had orchestrated her father’s assassination 20 years ago. Given Hail’s history, and her preferential manner of seeking retribution — er, justice — her royal bodyguards and the handful of people loyal to her have their hands full.
Hail needs to unravel the plots against her family and the throne, and determine if the reasons behind them are connected to her father’s murder, or to a faction intent on overturning centuries of matriarchal rule, or something even larger — and survive long enough to be crowned Empress of Indrana.
Next, in After the Crown, newly crowned Empress Hail Bristol is focused on tracking down the remaining principals who orchestrated the conspiracy to eradicate her family, and she’s committed to using every resource at her disposal, be they political, military, or criminal.
But those plans for retribution have to be put on hold, as internal strife threatens a civil war at the same time as the potential start of an interplanetary war, and both are disrupting her attempts to forge new alliances and bring back some stability to the society. New betrayals spring up while she’s traveling to other worlds, and she has to rely on everything she learned as a gunrunner — including working with some of her old criminal contacts — to avoid another round of attempts on her life, in the hopes of salvaging peace on Indrana.
Finally, in Beyond the Empire, Hail has to keep her allies together and stay alive long enough to regain her throne and her world. Treasonous acts have nearly eradicated her family and everything they represent, and invasion threatens the destabilze Indranan society. As she battles her way home, she must undo old lies, uncover dark secrets, and keep old allies from fighting new ones in order to free her world and restore her legacy.
All conspiracies come home to roost, and asses will get royally kicked.
While action and intrigue are key components of a satisfying space opera, the dance doesn’t work if the characters and their worlds don’t feel developed. We may be peeking into one chapter of their lives, but their lives were going on before we peeked in, and will continue after we hop to the next story. The worlds they visit, or attack or liberate need to feel as if there’s a history to them, one that existed before our heroes’ grandparents were even born.
The history of Indrana is colorful and rich, based on the traditions and systems of India. The traditional clothing is colorful and luxurious, the pantheon of Hindu gods are worshipped, but the caste system has a twist on it: the world is run by a matriarchy. The system came about because during the long journey through space to colonize Indrana, the majority of the men lost their mental faculties and the women had to organize and build when they arrived.
Hail’s family traces back to the original landers, and we also learn about the council of Matriarchs, the history and training of the BodyGuards and the military, as well as the culture of the ruling and noble classes. We get to know some of the people in the servants castes, because Hail cares for them as people, and genuinely wants everyone on her world to know peace and prosperity and happiness.
This ties into the societal issues where the men are organizing and protesting, seeking equality in representation and opportunities, and the disagreements between people who think that change might be a good idea, and those who want nothing to do with such revolutionary ideas (because it would bring about ruin for all, right?)
That Hail spent so much time away from her world working with and against so many different peoples and characters puts her in a unique position to do something constructive with the problems causing the unrest in Indranan society, as well as bargain above and under the table to free her world and eliminate the conspirators.
The other fun part about this trilogy is that a story line is set up up with one of the allied races that leads directly to the next trilogy, where Hail has to be more diplomatic than she’s accustomed to in working to prevent an interstellar war. There Before the Chaos will be the first in The Farian War trilogy, coming later this year.
I can’t wait.