‘Unconquerable Sun’ is everything a space opera should be. It has the Military SF tropes, the imperial politics and intrigue, the millennia-long history of constant conflict between human societies living on multiple worlds connected by technology no one really understands left behind by a race no one has ever seen, the diverse societies that draw heavily on Asian and European cultures, the space and weapons hardware well in advance of our own and an intricate and slow-reveal plot, punctuated with good action scenes.
Yet what makes ‘The Unconquerable Sun’ fly is that the story is told through the eyes of three strong young women, each of whom is at the start of a long path towards their chosen goals – Ruler, Engineer, Pilot and none of whom have yet understood the big picture that will shape their lives.
The ‘Sun’ of the title is the young mixed-race Heir to the throne: charismatic, determined, fearless, ruthless, gay and totally convinced of her right to rule. In counterpoint to her, we have a daughter of one of the great houses who has rejected the role her family want her to play, assumed a false identity and spent five years at a leading military academy. Finally there is a woman we meet only in chapters entitled ‘Dispatches From The Enemy’. She has four arms, the remnants of a hard shell, and is the daughter of an impoverished single mother and has the top scores of any pilot going through training. Her desire is simply to do her job well but things keep happening that suggest that someone somewhere has different plans for her. The paths of all three women cross in an unexpected war that they all must fight in.
This is a fairly long book (528 pages / 17 hours 43 minutes) yet it flew by as I lost myself to the story. I admired the skill with which Kate Elliott kept up the forward momentum of the story while deepening my interest in the characters, keeping me occupied with life-threatening action and still giving me time to wonder about the unanswered questions like how do the interstellar gates really work and why did some of them stop working and who are The Riders and why are the Banner Soldiers engineered so differently and …
There were several fresh ideas in the book that kept my attention: the way senior people have ‘Companions’ from the main families, most of who stay with them from childhood onwards; the way the would-be-ruler manipulates social media to gain support; the depiction of how badly refugees are treated and the threat that will eventually pose to the society that treats them that way; the grim, unheroic, body-shattering, blood-spilling, fear-inducing way that the battle stories are told.
This first book was a wild ride that laid the foundations for the series, leaving me hungry for the next book, ‘Furious Heaven’ (which comes out in 2023) without inflicting a cliffhanger ending on me.
I recommend the audiobook, expertly narrated by Natalie Naudus. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
‘Unconquerable Sun’ is the letter U in my TBR ABC Reading Challenge.