Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot
Head of Zeus
Mysteriously fallen empires
Action and heroics
More space battles
Where's book 2?
Where's book 3?
I’ll start off by admitting I’m a huge fan of space opera. Big space battles are awesome. Add in shenanigans, politics, betrayal, some star-crossed lovers, what’s not to love? Unconquerable Sun has all this and more.
Noble companions fight for honour and friendship, forbidden love occurs in spite of turbulent family politics – We even have some misunderstood villains. Who doesn’t love noble, misunderstood villains?
I’m pretty sure that not liking this book would have been impossible for me, on pretty much every level. Building an empire in the ruins of a huge, yet fallen empire that spanned the galaxy, Unconquerable Sun has almost everything I could want. I’d still love a few more space battles, but I’m greedy that way. Plus there are more books to come.
Elliot‘s universe has lots going on, with a range of human analogues that were created and contained by a fallen galaxy-spanning regime. An eternal empire that was coordinated through a series of beacons/wormholes providing instantaneous travel between stars, they also had slower ships which travelled between the systems at relativistic velocities too. When the beacon network partially collapsed, sundering the empire into random chunks, the survivors picked themselves up and started again. They were protected, or left exposed, by the worlds they could reach, or be reached by, via the remaining beacons. Such opportunities, of course, after centuries of enforced peace, lead to bloodshed, bargaining and survival of the fittest from a roiling cauldron of chaos.
Princess Sun, is the daughter of the Queen Eirene, Ruler of the Republic of Chaonia, and has recently come of age. Her first assignment with the Republic’s military has seen her show promise, but this makes her a threat to some, and a boon to others. She seeks to chart her own course, however. Apparently based in part on the tales of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, it has a few modern twists on the characters and promises much for the future of the series.
A mix of Asian and European traits and concepts bind this militaristic society together from a number of families/groupings, each vying for power and status. The Empress, and her heir, are accompanied, protected and counselled by Companions, from various branches of each of the major houses. this system ensures that all have an interest in the continuation of the current regime.
Sun is her mother’s only heir, and her father is the Queen’s consort. Originating from a rogue tribe of a nomadic warrior culture (the Gatoi), he has broken with his parent culture to throw in with Chaonia. The Gatoi provides mercenary troops to the former occupiers of Chaonia, the Phene Empire. The Prince is smart, principled and Sun’s greatest supporter. He is also despised and untrusted by most of the Queen’s supporters, who fear he and his savage kin will turn upon them. They would rather pursue their own petty schemes and have the Queen to themselves, with a ‘pure’ heir. “Unconquerable Sun” is his nickname for his smart, principled and wilful daughter, who he tries to help to grow and learn – Primarily how to achieve things without necessarily driving over and through every obstacle wilfully and impulsively.
A military hero and prodigy who fought for and achieved freedom for her home world, Eirene holds the Republic together through force of will. She takes counsel from those about her, while setting them at each other to leave her at their head. Everyone is vying for power, and Sun’s position can be precarious – While she is as talented as her mother, her moods are just as stormy and unpredictable.
Eirene seemingly begrudges Sun praise in any form, keeping her constantly on edge and off-balance. Is she trying to help her grow, or is she looking to supplant her with a more traditionally-sired heir?
We follow Sun as she, her father, and mother all try to navigate the machinations of enemies and allies (both abroad and internal). Not only do they seek to hold Chaonia together, but to push back the Phene still further.
We also gain insights into the Phene, and learn much about the different groupings, traditions and history of the universe, without being buried in exposition – A delicate balance. Friends die, alliances and new friendships are formed, and love and betrayal come in many flavours. Old skeletons refuse to stay buried but, through it all, the Republic continues and fights to defeat the more numerous Phene Empire and their (strangely) fanatically-loyal Gatoi.
The pacing is fast, and it drives you along, jumping between multiple viewpoints & throwing curveballs. You must figure out who works for who, who can be trusted, and where Sun (and her infuriating mother) will take things next – In spite of or alongside each other. (Don’t forget the inspiration of this tale)
As the first of a series it does, unfortunately, leave you wanting more, with many threads hanging. I guess we will just have to be patient.
Did I mention that I hate coming into a series like this when it’s just book 1? I’m awful at being patient, but Unconquerable Sun is worth the wait. I’m both elated and infuriated in turn.
I’d thoroughly recommend Unconquerable Sun but would REALLY like Book 2 soon… Please?