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Book Description (from the Penguin Random House website):

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend—the man he trusts most and might even love—only to learn that his friend is secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.
“Riveting, wildly fun, and incredibly smart.”—Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

Ettian’s life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded his world. He’s spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he’s met Gal—his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who’s made the academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised academy unscathed, rattled that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him, and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule.

As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who’s won his heart and trust that Gal’s goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what’s rightfully theirs?

Bonds of Brass, the first book in Emily Skrutskie’s Bloodright Trilogy, piqued my interest when I learned it was a space opera with a prince in disguise from the book description and saw a graphic on Twitter stating that you might like it if you like forbidden romance, fake dating between PINING best friends, scary empress moms, galactic-level bisexual disasters, and the inherent DRAMA of empire, among various other components. It sounded like a recipe for a fun story with angst and secrets galore, and I was thrilled when a copy of the book unexpectedly showed up in the mail one day.

And it is an entertaining, fast-paced novel. It doesn’t take long to jump into the action with the attack on Gal and the revelation that he’s the heir to the Empire occurring within the first 20 pages, resulting in a rescue sequence showing that Ettian is indeed “one hell of a pilot” (another feature listed on the aforementioned Twitter graphic). There are a lot more exciting scenes throughout its pages and it does have a lot of fun parts, yet I only found myself truly immersed in it during the last few chapters and didn’t find it all that memorable once I finished reading it—mainly because I just wasn’t all that invested in the characters or their stories.

Bonds of Brass does make some time for character moments, but they didn’t end up entirely working for me, especially those between Ettian and Gal. At first, the palpable tension due to their feelings for each other was delightful, but the more I read, the less I understood why Ettian remained so fiercely loyal to Gal after learning he’s the heir to the Empire that destroyed his life. Certainly, Ettian is loyal to his friends and Gal won’t necessarily be the same type of ruler as his scary empress mom, but I didn’t feel that we were shown the better parts of him that Ettian reflected on: his best qualities and charisma mainly seemed to be in Ettian’s memories, not in the present. In fact, Gal often came across as a jerk—and not the type who has characterization and layers making him engaging to read about anyway—especially considering his jealousy and treatment of Wen, a character I found far more compelling and likable. I just kept thinking that Ettian seemed far too good for Gal and could find someone far worthier of his devotion.

Although I thought the romantic connection ultimately fell flat, I did like the platonic relationship that developed between Ettian and Wen, a girl he met when looking for a spaceship to buy and ended up befriending after everything exploded and went horribly wrong. Wen is a survivor—clever and “chaos incarnate,” as Ettian says of her—who makes everything more interesting when she shows up. Her friendship with Ettian largely builds from the shared experience of being children who have to scrape by on the streets all alone. They can understand each other in ways many others do not, and they look out for each other and have each other’s backs.

While Bonds of Brass is generally a quickly paced book, it’s also a bit of an oddly paced book: a lot happens, but there’s a lot of exposition and introspection that seems to drag because it just doesn’t have the narrative voice to carry it. The last chapters move at a breakneck pace as it reveals the big twist, which I not only predicted long before it happened but thought was too orchestrated (in ways I can’t discuss without spoilers, of course). Although I did enjoy reading how it unfolded, I also felt like it wasn’t especially gratifying compared to other books I’ve read that do similar things—I tend to love that sort of revelation even when I suspect it’s coming, but I didn’t find myself thinking about this one after closing the book.

Despite the issues I had with Bonds of Brass, some fun scenes, a great friendship, and curiosity about how it would end did keep me interested enough to read the entire book, even though it never got me terribly invested in the characters or made me want to stay up late reading “just one more chapter.” However, although the last few chapters did actually keep me glued to the pages, it didn’t end up being a novel that stuck with me enough to want to continue the series given the many other books I have yet to read.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Bonds of Brass