RogerBW's Blog

Unconquerable Sun, Kate Elliott 31 October 2020

2020 SF, first of a planned trilogy. Sun is the daughter and heir-presumptive of Queen-Marshal Eirene, who turned the Chaonian Republic from a defeated mess into a strong if fragile interstellar power. She's just won her own first naval victory. But there are enemies both internal and external…

So basically it's a space opera modelled on the life of Alexander the Great with most of the sexes swapped. I'm not familiar with Alexander's history in any sort of detail, though I recognise some bits here and there and I can see that it's a loose inspiration more than a slavish retelling; but it does have implications for the technology, because after all if you're going to be Alexander in space you need to be able to win a space battle by faking a disorderly retreat to encourage the enemy to chase you.

But while there's plenty of action, both in space and on land, the focus is on Sun herself and on her relationships with her Companions (not favourites, more hostages-turned-friends) and the Companions' companions ("cee-cees", which just sounds silly to me). While there are quite a few viewpoints, the one I enjoyed most was that of Persephone Lee, newly nominated as a Companion, from a noble house that's definitely scheming for power… but is it actually colluding with one or another set of foreign enemies, or is it just helping them by accident with the confusion it causes?

There's a fair bit of infodumping up front but once the story proper starts it keeps moving at a very fast pace. This is the sort of epic-scale space opera (for all it's confined to a small number of solar systems so far) that I don't often read because too often it falls into simplistic militarism or "I'm right because I'm the protagonist"; but everyone here makes mistakes, ones that are consistent with who they are, and that goes a long way towards keeping them human rather than larger-than-life hero-figures. Rather than bad guys, we have people who are doing what they think is best not only for their faction but for their nation as a whole (all right, they may conflate those a little more than can really be justified).

There's even an acknowledgement that this state has common people in it as well as shiny aristocrats with teeth that go ting, and that maybe it's not always doing a great job of looking after them…

On the tech side we have an enemy empire that does genetic modification so that most of its people are four-armed and some have exoskeleta; and the beacon system that works like warp gates (Landis 1.4.11, go to known point A and turn on the drive and you arrive at known point B) except that, while these beacons are clearly artefacts, nobody knows how they work any more, and some of them don't.

There's a thoroughgoing sense of fun here even as bad things happen to good people; too many authors would wallow in the grimness, but these characters don't have time for that, they need to get on with the next desperate action against a superior enemy.

I look forward to further volumes.

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