TBR Pile Review: Unconquerable Sun, by Kate Elliott

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Hardcover, 523 pages
Published October 1st 2020 by Head Of Zeus (first published July 7th 2020)
ISBN:1800243200 (ISBN13: 9781800243200)

GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE

Princess Sun has finally come of age.

Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia—add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same—and hold on tight:

This is the space opera you’ve been waiting for.

My Review

This is one of my Goldsboro Books signed, numbered first editions. It’s a chunky hardback. I read a hundred pages, had a break, read another three hundred and something pages, had a few days’ break and then finished the last hundred or so pages tonight. I actually had to stop the second section right in the middle of the big battle, because I was struggling to stay awake – up reading long past my bed time again, as I am tonight, although I’m not up quite so late tonight. I am going to bed as soon as I’ve written this though, because my dodgy left hip is playing up (I have been overdoing the exercising again and now I’m in almost constant pain. Yay.)

Anyway, ignore my complaints, on to the book. This book follows Sun, heir to the Chaonian empire as she battles with her parents, her handlers and the Phene Empire. It’s gender-swapped Alexander the Great in space. Complete with inco0mprehensible or unpronounceable names. Really, how does one pronounce Li (circumflex over the i) when one has not been brought up in a language that uses that?

Sun has her Companions – seven people of similar age from the other ruling Houses of Chaonia, – and the Companions’ companions, known as cee-cees, her bodyguard Octavian, and not much else on her side. Her father is a Gatoi royal, Prince Jaoa, who is hated by Chaonians because he represents the Phene Empire’s wildest soldiers, the banner troops of the Gatoi, who work as mercenaries for the Phene. Jaoa believes the Phene do something the the Gatoi to make them so fierce and his secret project is to find out what. When the Phene attack, Sun and her friends a brought into the fight.

It’s actually more complex than that, involving loss of old friends and making new friends, learning to trust people you don’t want to trust and discovering everything isn’t as you’ve been brought up to believe.

As a counterpoint to Sun’s story, there is the story of Apoma, a Phene Lancer pilot. Fresh out of training school, she is sent to a great warship and into the battles at the centre of this story. Confused as to why she has joined an established crew, and dragged along in the wake of a Yele admiral, Apoma gets to see everything, until she finds out the reason, eventually, right at the end. Not telling you why though.

A third story weaves through these – that of Persephone Lee and her cee-cee Tiana. Persephone’s brother Perseus is Sun’s Companion, while Persephone runs away to a military training college and changes her name a bit to hide her House heritage. The college is for citizens who have to earn their place but graduating can lift a family out of poverty. When Perseus dies, Persephone is recalled to her family, who have known where she was the whole time, and thrown back into political intrigue as a replacement for her brother. Persephone and Tiana work well together, and the sub-plot of Persephone growing into her position as Sun’s Companion and becoming more herself, as well as falling in love with a Gatoi prisoner, is really engaging and fun. Her knowledge, and Tiana’s random bits of information, help the Companions to complete their missions. I sense a ‘rebuilding the Beacon’ subplot in future instalments, just as soon as she gets her hands on that book!

There’s some fun tech in this story and complex competing societies, as well as bizarre things like a popularity contest, and ‘wasps’- tiny flying cameras that follow people around are report on everything. It’s a bit Korean K-Pop training school/Pop Idol. Absolute madness, but it works well in the story – Sun and the Companions use the situation to their advantage and use it to distract where necessary.

The three main different cultures – Chaonia, Yele and Phene – are fascinating. They are fairly obviously Macadonian, Hellenic Greek and Persian analogues. The Yele are especially Athenian. Very. Irritatingly so when two get together – so much speechmaking. The Chaonian are human mostly, with different rights based on status as citizens or provisionals, or refugees, and the Phene were human once but have differentiated due to genetic adaptation and manipulation, with two sets of arms, sometimes a shell, like an earwig, and some have two faces on their heads. The Gatoi have neural networks embedded in them from birth, that provides controls for hormones, anti-inflammatory compounds and painkillers, as well as being programmable. They all travel about by means of a net of beacons that allow ships to move vast distances in short periods of time. The net was once bigger, but something happened 800 years before that broke most of the beacons and scattered the human communities of the Celestial Empire. This causes problems for the competing empires and is centrally important to the plot. I hope that there’s more about the past in future books.

I really enjoyed the whole experience of reading this novel, I raced through it, surprising myself when I lost about five hours one evening/night/early morning, because it hadn’t seemed so long. I was utterly immersed in the story, with the characters on their adventures. Excellent fun.

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