ARC provided by the publishers—Tor Books & Head of Zeus—in exchange for an honest review.
Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Sun Chronicles (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Sci-fi, Military Sci-fi, Space Opera
Pages: 528 pages (US hardback edition)
Published: 1st October 2020 by Head of Zeus (UK) & 7th July 2020 by Tor Books (US)
It’s quite outrageous that it took me this long to finally read Kate Elliott’s book for the very first time.
I’ve heard many good things about Kate Elliott’s books. Black Wolves, Crossroads, Spiritwalker, and recently Crown of Stars (despite this being the oldest out of the series I mentioned) are series that I’ve seen occasionally in social media. But for whatever reasons, I just haven’t gotten around to them. Then Unconquerable Sun, the first book in The Sun Chronicles, appeared, and I decided to read this one first before finalizing my decision to read Elliott’s backlog of books. I knew pretty much nothing about this book other than that it’s been continuously advertised as Gender-swapped Alexander the Great on an interstellar scale, and it ended up being a wonderful book that surprised me in many ways.
“Rule of Sun, Rule One. Never show weakness because the moment we show weakness, we will die.”
Princess Sun grew up behind the shadow of her mother, Eirene. This is a difficult task for Sun because Eirene, the legendary queen-marshal, has accumulated tons of achievements in her life. Eirene has expelled invaders, and most importantly, she has built Chaonia into an incredible republic. It is not an easy task for Princess Sun to live up to her insanely high expectations, things are made worse when noble houses schemes to have Sun removed from her position as an heir to Eirene. Sun has to fight off these threats to her life by relying on her wit, charisma, and companions that consists of her biggest rival, secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war from Gatoi.
“What my family wants harmed, I will. Even if Sun is a bitch.”
Upon reading the first few chapters of Unconquerable Sun, I honestly thought that this novel wouldn’t work for me. I really wouldn’t call this book an easy read; Elliott won’t hold your hands, it’s up to the readers themselves to divulge the meaning behind each name and terminologies through the contexts and narratives provided, and there was a LOT to take in. Do note that I’m not too knowledgeable on the story of Alexander the Great; I don’t know how that affects my enjoyment. Plus, I’m also much more well-versed in an epic fantasy than space opera; names and terminologies tend to be much easier for me to learn in epic fantasy, so this situation might not apply to you. I eventually became used to the in-world names and terms, and when the story exploded in the quarter mark of the novel, the actions never let up from there, and the rest of the book was filled with events I found myself entertained in.
“What does honor mean if it is just a word used as a currency in trade?”
Unconquerable Sun is very heavy on its action sequences. Excluding the first quarter of the book, everything else was non-stop actions with almost no breather in-between. From deceptions, deadly politics, close-quarter combat, and large-scale space war, this novel has everything a military space-opera enthusiast loves to read. The constant exposure to battles and wars with tons of names/terms to remember did hinder the pacing of the book for me at times. Thankfully, the characters really pulled through for me. Sun is a well-written character; her determination and strength to win are inspiring. That being said, although Sun is the titular character, I did find myself feeling more invested in the other POV characters: Persephone Lee and Zizou. The chemistry between Sun and her Companions were the definite key points of the book to me. I love reading all of them trying their best to cooperate and overcome their differences despite each of them coming from a different background, and I found their banter with each other utterly enjoyable to read.
“Holding on to my grudge isn’t worth it. In this world we can’t afford to lose the companions who have our backs. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone succumbs to pressures, many of which are out of their control.”
Considering that this is the first time I read anything by Elliott, I can’t judge whether her prose has improved from her past books or not, but I love the choices of words she implemented into her prose. Elliott also uses a storytelling device that’s different than the standard. Sun’s and Apama’s POV chapters are written in the third-person past tense; Persephone Lee’s POV chapters are written in the first-person present tense; Zizou’s POV chapters are written in the third-person present tense. This is quite a rare combination of narration choices to encounter in a single book for me, and although I didn’t see the necessity of doing it, I found the actual reading experience itself refreshing and engaging. As I mentioned earlier, the POV chapters in this book that utilizes present tense ended up being my favorite chapters to read compared to the one that uses past tense—the one I’m much more familiar with. The most important question to ask about these is whether they’re well-written or not, and I have to say that they were. Also, this is purely coincidental, but somehow the previous upcoming book I just finished—The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart—reading uses a similar kind of switches in POV.
“Don’t diminish your accomplishments, but don’t boast of them either. The evidence of your deeds is the only trophy you need.”
Unconquerable Sun may be a bit challenging to get into at first, but once you’re in the 25% section of the book, you will most likely find that persevering through the difficult sections worthwhile. Great diverse characters, massive in scope, complex and richly detailed world-building, Unconquerable Sun is a must-read for military sci-fi/space-opera readers. I definitely look forward to reading more of Kate Elliott’s backlog now while I wait for the next book in the series. I still don’t know whether I’ll read Crown of Stars or Black Wolves next; I was thinking of getting the entire Crown of Stars series in paperback (the cover arts are gorgeous) to read, but then I found out that each book will cost me around $22-30 each. In total, that means I have to spend at least $150 to get the entire set; this is way too overpriced for a mass market paperback collection for me. I might end up going the Kindle route for Crown of Stars eventually or maybe—despite the discontinued state of the series—read Black Wolves, which I already own now, first instead.
Official release date: 7th July 2020 (US) & 1st October 2020 (UK)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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