Set nearly two millennia into the future, the story is told in first-person past-tense entirely from the perspective of Hailimi Mecedes Jaya Bristol; a runaway “princess.” It starts out with high action, and the pacing never lets up for too long throughout the “headstrong, reluctant ruler” premise.
Twenty years ago, Hail fled her home planet—and all her royal responsibilities—to hunt her father’s killer. She never found the person responsible, but she did find a taste for the gun-runner life. So when the Indranan Empire hauls her back home, literally kicking and screaming, she’s in no mood to exchange her freedom for the leadership her people so desperately need. But not only can she no longer return to the life and name she’d made for herself, but someone is determined to prevent her from ascending to the throne she never wanted.
Disclaimer: This reader originally screened Behind The Throne for potential crossover appeal to a YA audience. While the tone and content are closer to New Adult, the belated coming-of-age aspects could potentially be appropriate for select mature YA readers. (Abundant strong but in-context language; casual sexual commentary, but no graphic depictions.)
What I Liked:
The Indranan Empire is a true matriarchy—complete with the open regard for males as the lesser of the two sexes. But it isn’t merely the novelty of a female-dominated society that held my attention, it was the plausibility of the way in which it came about. (When one sex proves significantly more prone to the sanity-destroying side effects of space travel, it makes sense that the more impervious half of the species would take over in the realm of judgment calls.) The issue of gender-based discrimination was handled with a subtle and believable keenness, ratcheting up the conflict in all the right places. The author could have easily gone heavy-handed in the reversal on the historical norm, but she didn’t.
Personally, this reader very much enjoyed the distinctly Indian aesthetic and cultural elements, along with the consistently personalized Hindu references. It's refreshing to see a book buck the religiously sterilized mainstream "norm" and add that extra layer of depth to the work. Hail’s character was made all the more convincible—and relatable—by the inclusion of spirituality into her inner struggle.
I also found the Tracker concept intriguing--however inefficient the idea of somehow bonding two militaristic hunters together so thoroughly that the death of one will make the other go insane. It was interesting to have it openly suggested that their close proximity and mental link would commonly result in a sexual relationship as well--regardless of their genders. I would have liked to see more clarification on this partnering process, but that is perhaps being reserved for future books.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track especially well with the emotionally disconnected MC until well past the story’s middle. Initially it seemed like the idea of having killed the guy she was casually sleeping with gave Hail little or no regret. (Her only real attachment seemed to be to her ship, Sophie.) But as the story progressed, it began to sound more and more like she was actually attached to Portis. Attachment eventually progressed to marital-level love, upon ongoing reflection. This unfolded in a way that felt more like an afterthought than a realization.
As much as I like tough women, Hail fell more into the callous range than I generally find sympathetic in a heroine. The potential YA appeal here would be primarily in that Hail’s personal growth seems to have been stunted at the age she ran away from home. For the first half of the book she behaves more like an angst-addled 18-year-old than a 38-year-old. This stubborn immaturity does ease up, but this requires a good deal of patience on the part of readers.
While the plot may drive some readers more than the character arc—and enough questions are left to justify the need for a sequel—there wasn’t much by way of twists or surprises.
Minor Note: The two primary expletives (i.e. "Bugger me" and "Holy cowsh*t") felt somewhat overused, and did little to enhance the book’s futuristic setting.
On the whole, this is a solid debut with a great deal of potential. An advisable try for flexible fantasy enthusiasts or fans of lighter sci-fi.