Book Review: Unconquerable Sun By Kate Elliott

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Genre : Science Fiction, Space Opera

Publisher : Tor Books

Length : 528 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 4 stars

Publication Date : July 7th 2020

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION

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.

BOOK REVIEW

Princess Sun is the heir to the Republic of Chaonia, a growing power caught between the mighty Phene Empire and the proud Yele League. Sun’s mother is Eirene, the ruthless queen-marshal who managed to build the Republic from scratch after winning multiple battles against the two giants.

Sun wants to follow in the footsteps of her legendary mother. Yet, even after brilliantly winning the first battle, Eirene isn’t impressed by her daughter’s victory and sends her away to tour various Chaonian planets. However, after a bloody incident that causes the death of one of her Companions, Sun decides to go back home only to realize that in the meantime, her mother has found a new concubine and that Sun might lose her position as the heir…

Unconquerable Sun is the first installment in Kate Elliott’s Sun Chronicles, a new epic space opera trilogy. The title is a bit misleading since the book follows several characters, Persephone Lee, one of Sun’s new Companion, Zizou, a genetically engineered soldier, Apama, a soldier working for the Phene Empire and of course, Sun herself.

Oddly enough, my least character of the bunch was Sun and my favorite was Persephone which is probably an unpopular opinion. To be perfectly honest, I thought Sun was kind of a gratuitous asshole sometimes? I get that being the heir to a republic when everyone wants you out of the picture can turn everyone into a paranoid mess but still. I only liked her chapters because they allowed me to understand the world and the politics a bit better but, I’m not sure Elliott managed to convince me that Sun would make a good leader – I’m pretty sure she would alienate too many people for that.

Persephone on the other hand, is also a bit of an asshole but, I didn’t mind. I don’t have to find characters likeable to find them interesting and, she definitely was. Sure, she made some stupid decisions and she had the tendency to be attracted to the wrong people at the wrong times but still, I liked reading her chapters the most. (I don’t know what it says about me 😂)

The beginning of Unconquerable Sun was quite slow and it took me some time to get familiar with the various republics and empires. However, once I did, it was very satisfying and I’m very curious to see how the events at the end of the book will impact the balance of power. The worldbuilding is rich and detailed and the writing was very solid. The choice of narration was interesting, some chapters are told from first person while others are told from third person. It could have felt a bit awkward or weird but it didn’t, at least not for me.

In any case, I had a lot of fun reading about Sun and her Companions’ adventures. The Companions are members of the seven most powerful families of the Chaonian Republic. I usually love reading about political intrigues (especially in a science fiction setting!) and it was fascinating to learn about the families and their influence on the Republic. This book was very focused on one of the family – the Lee family – but I hope that we will learn more about the other houses in the coming books!

My only gripe with Unconquerable Sun is that while I really enjoyed learning about the world Elliott created, I couldn’t help but to notice how many elements she borrowed from different cultures. It’s not uncanny for authors to be inspired by different cultures in order to build their worlds but, I thought Elliott kind of played “pick & choose” with different cultures.

For example, Chaonia was an odd jumble of Chinese, Japanese and Korean culture and I recognized some elements inspired by India and the Philippines in the Phene Empire. It wouldn’t have bothered me if Elliott had been clearly inspired by one culture in particular but this mash-up of cultures combined with the Ancient Greek references was jarring. You can’t just take cultural elements from various countries, mash them together and call that worldbuilding, can you?

To finish with this tangent, I’m pretty sure the whole Idol Faire program was inspired by idol variety shows such as the Korean show Weekly Idol and, because of that, I couldn’t not see Sun and her group of a Companions as a K-pop group of sorts. Let me be clear, I have nothing against K-pop, on the contrary, but I’m not sure I want to imagine the heir of an intergalactic empire as a leader of a K-pop group.

Even if Unconquerable Sun wasn’t the perfect read, I still enjoyed it quite a bit and, I’m sure a lot of readers will enjoy it too. The story is epic, the cast of characters and the various political intrigues are fascinating. It’s action-packed and it has a lot of cool space battles. It also features a lot of casual queer relationships – Sun herself is in a relationship with a woman, Persephone is bisexual (or pansexual, it’s not specified) and Eirene has multiple consorts (both women and men).

I will definitely read the second book, Furious Heaven, whenever it comes out! (hopefully next year?).

Rating: 4 out of 5.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor Books and Netgalley. All thoughts are my own.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Unconquerable Sun By Kate Elliott

  1. Yes, the writing is pretty solid, isn’t it?
    I had the same problem with Elliot’s menu approach to cultures. I get it, it’s millions of years in the future and whatnot, but that mashup just didn’t go well – too many jarring elements.
    You made me laugh with the K-Pop analogy – tbh, this element of the novel was among the least interesting for me; I get that it was supposed to show a democratic element in the empire, an analog for the ancient games and fickleness of popular vote etc., but it was so underdeveloped that seemed very shallow and gratuitous.
    Still, good to see it has you hooked! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is! If the book had been written by someone else, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much.
      I agree if the fact that it is set in the future but then, I would expect those elements to be blended to the point you can’t really notice where they came from because they would have been changed by centuries of history.
      I’m glad it made you laugh! 😀 I found the whole Idol Faire kind of cringy… I can’t really buy the fact that one of Sun’s trusted Companions has the time to do music shows. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve had this one on my sights for a while now and the book is on my TBR, so I can’t wait to see for myself how I will react to it: it’s clear that it’s not perfect, but it sound like a fun read, and these days I try to gather as much fun as I can to dispel the dark clouds hanging over us all…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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