Today we are thrilled to host the brand new cover reveal for Rhonda Mason’s highly anticipated new novel, Cloak of War. Thea read and loved the first book in this series, The Empress Game (it even made her top 10 of 2015!), so we were delighted when we were asked to unveil this new cover, and given the chance to ask Rhonda a few questions about what we can expect in this second novel.
Without further ado, behold! The beautiful cover!
About the book
The bloody tournament to determine the new empress of the intergalactic empire may be over, but for exiled princess Kayla Reinumon, the battle is just beginning. To free her home planet from occupation, Kayla must infiltrate the highest reaches of imperial power. But when a deadly nanovirus threatens to ravage the empire, it will take more than diplomacy to protect her homeworld from all-out war.
Interview With The Author
The Book Smugglers: The Empress Game embodies one of our very favorite types of story tropes: the Arena story (more specifically, The Tourney trope). Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the eponymous Empress Game.
Rhonda Mason: Kayla came into my mind as a character long before the concept of the Empress Game did. I knew she was a badass at hand-to-hand combat, and I knew it had to play a part in the plot. Admittedly, in a technologically advanced society, it’s tough to find a way to showcase such skills when you have ion pistols and other weaponry available.
That’s where Isonde’s intrigue to become the next empress fit in. I started to imagine the roadblocks in her way, what might keep her from a goal, and what that might have to do with Kayla.
Add in an imperial political structure that had been built over centuries. It first governed the planet Falanar, then expanded and mutated to encompass the Sovereign Planets, and now morphed into something different again while annexing Protectorate Planets. The amount of remnant and artifact political policies still in place (no matter how ridiculous) would be enormous.
Those three elements combined gave rise to the Empress Game. I never set out to write an Arena Story but I really enjoyed it! 🙂
The Book Smugglers: Are you a fan of other Arena/Tourney/Gladiator style stories? What are some of your favorites?
Rhonda Mason: I wouldn’t have said I was specifically an Arena-style story fan, but now that you ask, a lot of great stories come to mind.
The movie Gladiator, of course. Talk about heart-wrenching! The honor, the emotional pain, the justice. . . To die for, no question.
I love A Knight’s Tale (though, that might have a lot to do with Heath Ledger staring in it. . . .)
I really enjoyed The Hunger Games. Katniss is a great character! I admit to reading it after I sold The Empress Game to Titan Books, I didn’t want to inadvertently borrow from the book while writing.
On a slightly different note, I would put stories like Rocky and The Karate Kid in this category as far as influencing me. And one of my all-time favorite “tournament” style sports movies: Major League. (Hey, no laughing!) That thing keeps you on the edge of your seat for their entire season. 🙂
The Book Smugglers: The relationship between Kayla and Isonde was one of our favorite aspects of the first novel in this series. Tell us a little bit about these two women, their relationship, and the different types of power they embody. How do Kayla and Isonde compare to other women in THE EMPRESS GAME universe, in terms of agency and power?
Rhonda Mason: Wow, this question could be an essay for me. I really enjoyed exploring the tangled relationship between Isonde and Kayla. Isonde and Kayla are similar in many respects: they’re both extremely strong-willed, stubborn, driven, willing to make sacrifices and noble. In a different lifetime, you could almost see them becoming friends.
Two things made a true friendship impossible. 1) Racial ties. At the end of the day, when the very last choice is made, Kayla will side with Wyrds and Isonde will side with the empire. At their very hearts, they’re driven to do the best for their own people. And 2) How far each will go for their people, what they’re willing sacrifice in pursuit of their goals.
For me, Kayla and Isonde embody the opposite ends of the spectrum as far as power goes. Kayla is an extremely powerful person with a strong will, but the events of THE EMPRESS GAME force her into an almost powerless situation, time and again. As much as it goes against the grain, she’s forced to fall in with Isonde and Malkor’s plan. Her agency comes when she realizes that she’s not a victim of their plan, she actually believes in it. She reclaims her power when she decides she’s all-in on winning the Empress Game.
Isonde, on the other hand, has an immense amount of political power and is a major player in the development of the empire. She would seem to be almost unstoppable. Except the one thing she wants, the one thing she needs in order to achieve her ultimate goal—a seat on the Council of Seven—is beyond her grasp. She is utterly dependant on Kayla in that regard, and therein lies her powerlessness.
In the world of The Empress Game, I wanted a spectrum where women were as powerful as men in many situations, so much so that the gender of a person isn’t considered when their politics are being discussed. I also wanted to flip the notion that men will always be dominant because of their greater size and strength, which is why on the Wyrd Worlds, the women are often (but not always) taller and stronger. In return, the men are often stronger psionics, so the power structure balances out. Ideally.
The Book Smugglers: Let’s talk about telepathic abilities and the Wyrd, particularly the bond between Kayla and her brother Corinth. What inspired this type of guardian-protector bond?
Rhonda Mason: My very first image of Kayla was of her fighting in the Blood Pit, and I knew in that moment that she wasn’t fighting to win, she was fighting to protect. In a way, Kayla never existed without an il’haar to protect. It’s so fundamental to her core being that the guardian-protector bond was a must.
One of the things I love about her bond with Corinth is the bittersweet (for her) nature of it. He’s her biggest success story, the one person she saved from the massacre. He’s also a daily reminder of her greatest failure—Vayne “died,” she failed to protect him, and Kayla is only left with Corinth, who is a pale shade of Vayne.
For five years she and Corinth were each other’s whole worlds, and their bond is even stronger because of that. There’s a parent/child theme threaded through their bond that joins them in a different way than Kayla and Vayne could ever have been joined.
I’ve always admired protector-style characters. There’s something about their devotion, dedication and willingness to sacrifice that speaks to me.
The Book Smugglers: What can readers expect of Kayla and company in this second book (no spoilers, please!)? Romance? Intrigue? More fighting? All of the above?
Rhonda Mason: Definitely intrigue! It wouldn’t be a book of mine if people weren’t scheming and double-dealing. Now that they’ve won the Game, Kayla and crew are thrust onto the center stage of imperial politics and the stakes are that much higher.
Of course, nothing soothes my savage heart like combat, so you can bet on some serious butt-kickery. (Real word, btw, I swear.) Don’t expect a repeat of the Empress Game, though, things have moved past the tournament. In book one Kayla fought for the crown, but in Cloak of War, lives are on the line.
What I’m most excited about for book 2 is the way the story expands and opens up beyond the milieu of the Game. The scope of the conflict widens and we get glimpses of life on Kayla’s home planet. Not to mention, the adventure is just beginning for Corinth, Vayne and Tia’tan.
The Book Smugglers: Finally, a question we ask all of our interviewees. We Book Smugglers have faced condemnation because of the sheer volume of books that we carry back home on a daily basis. As such, we have on occasion resorted to “smuggling books” home to escape judgmental, scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Rhonda Mason Absolutely! I am never, ever without a book. And if I am going somewhere I expect to wait? You can find me jamming 2 books in my purse, just in case I finish the first one while I’m out.
I once had a bad relationship with a guy who constantly questioned my spending on books (we had shared finances) and it was a fight every the time. When I married my husband (whom I trust implicitly) I told him, “I’m keeping my finances separate so that no one can tell me I can’t buy more books!” Thankfully he understands my book craziness. ? He tries to smuggle in new standup paddleboards, and believe me, that is a LOT trickier.
About The Author
Rhonda Mason, author of The Empress Game Trilogy, divides her writing time between fantasy, science fiction and any combination thereof. She has an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where she specialized in Epic Fantasy. She could talk for days about bulldogs, her family, snorkeling the Florida Keys and her obsession with efficiency—consider yourself warned! www.RhondaMason.com, twitter: @RMasonWriter.
Courtesy of the publisher, we have three copies of The Empress Game (book 1) up for grabs! The giveaway is open to those in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada! To enter, please use the form below. Good luck!