Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

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.

*****

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I admit, the start of this book was pretty rocky for me. The first two or so chapters that introduced Sun and her dad were great, but after that, I just found the first 30% an absolute slog. Partially, it had to do with the absolutely ham-fisted worldbuilding. I’m one of the weirdos that doesn’t mind authors info-dumping, but author’s attempting to disguise info-dumps through characters asking other characters questions they should definitely both know the answer to? One of my biggest pet peeves. And it just happened over and over and over again. The other factor was how distant the characters felt. Shit goes down in the first 30% and there was just no emotional impact for me at all. Unconquerable Sun has actually become one of the few cases where I’ve had to check the extremely stellar Goodreads reviews to keep myself from just straight up DNF-ing the book.

After about the first 30%, the action kicks into high gear and the book becomes one battle leading into another into another. Just how I like my space opera. Elliot definitely demonstrates her skill in writing combat because in this book alone there are small five-man skirmishes, land battles coordinating multiple sets of troops, all the way up to full scale space battles. I found each battle extremely engaging and well laid out.

For the characters, I unfortunately can’t say I liked them all. While the book is advertised as a gender-bent space-Alexander the Great, the book doesn’t so much as tell a story about her as it does around her. Sun, our Alexander character, has competence, arrogance, and brashness is spade and she was unfortunately also the character that got the least amount of character development. Instead, this story is told through Sun’s Companions, sworn…companions(?) from the seven houses that make up Sun’s Chaonian Empire.

In particular, we follow Persephone, a recent military academy graduate who finds herself forced into Sun’s Companions after a series of circumstances. Frankly, I found Persephone the least interesting and most annoying to read of all characters. To me, she has that similar template to a lot of edgy female YA lead with the snark and self-hate but thankfully a little more personality to back that up. She grew on me a little by the end, but anytime I read one of her chapters, I just wanted to get back to Sun. Hell, any of the other companions, hackerboi James, the Honorable Hestia Hope, or actually-a-kpop-idol Alika, would have been a much more interesting character to focus on than Persephone in my opinion.

The writing for this book is an ambitious mix of serious space-opera and an almost… Percy Jackson form of humor, mixed in with what I can only describe as Kpop stan fervor. Netizen squeeing reactions would honestly not be amiss in this book. As Sun goes about fighting battles and dodging court intrigue, the adventures of her and her companions are being filmed for some bizarre cross between something like American Idol, idol competitions like the Produce series, and America’s Funniest Home Videos, as a way to demonstrate her actions to the people. While I think the concept was interesting, I don’t think the execution fully hit the mark. The jumps between Sun and friend’s running for their lives to this seemingly irrelevant show was so clumsy imo.

Worldbuilding-wise, I think this book shines. Elliot has developed a complicated political system between galaxy powers Chaonians, the Yele, and the Phene, and added some truly interesting factors into space travel and mind controlled soldiers. Ignoring the fact of how the world was introduced to the reader, the actual worlds are rich and extremely satisfying to delve into. The Chaonian Empire in particular is an interesting mix of East Asian (primarily Chinese?) and Greek-inspired cultures. Characters eat deep friend sesame balls and rice cakes, and listen to Teresa Teng of all people. What I enjoyed most was that many names came with tonal marks! Which means for a Chinese speaker like me (okay that’s a bit of a stretch) I don’t have to guess at which tone a character’s name is supposed to be! I will say that the Greek/Chinese don’t feel like they fully mix (linguistically the two languages are nothing alike) and that the Asian aspects do feel somewhat decorative at times.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. While I had my hang-ups in the first 30%, I loved the fast-paced action-filled latter half. I fully admit to knowing absolutely nothing about Alexander the Great or his story, so I can’t speak to the accuracy, but I enjoyed both the worldbuilding and the characters


r/Fantasy Bingo Squares:

  • Novel Published in 2020
  • Feminist Novel
  • Novel Featuring Politics

Publication Date: 7 Julys 2020 (US), 1 October 2020 (UK)
Publisher: Tor Books (US), House of Zeus (UK)
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 528
Word Count: ~166,000
ISBN: 1250197244 
Buy It Here: Amazon Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

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