Book review: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

Title: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

Publisher: Tor Books/Head of Zeus

Publication date: 1 October 2020

Genre: Adult | Science fiction | Space opera

Page extent: 528 pages



It has been eight centuries since the beacon system failed, sundering the heavens. Rising from the ashes of the collapse, cultures have fought, system-by-system, for control of the few remaining beacons. The Republic of Chaonia is one such polity. Surrounded by the Yele League and the vast Phene Empire, they have had to fight for their existence. After decades of conflict, Queen-Marshal Eirene has brought the Yele to heel.

Now it is time to deal with the Empire. Princess Sun, daughter and heir, has come of age.

In her first command, she drove a Phene garrison from the beacons of Na Iri – an impressive feat. But growing up in the shadow of her mother – a ruler both revered and feared – has been no easy task. While Sun may imagine that her victorious command will bring further opportunity to prove herself, it will in fact place her on the wrong side of court politics. There are those who would like to see Sun 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.

Thank you to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

WE ARE BLESSED WITH AMAZING QUEER SCI FI THIS YEAR AND I CANT STOP SCREAMING ABOUT IT. I honestly cannot express in words how amazing a year scifi is having, I am in AWE at the stories coming in this genre. Unconquerable Sun is a retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a female Alexander (and yes, there is a female Hephaestion too). It’s an epic story of war across the galaxy and as someone who hasn’t been hugely interested in massive war/military fantasy and scifi before, I am in awe at the ease with which Elliot’s writing completely engaged me because I had so much fun and was on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

Unconquerable Sun follows Sun, the daughter and heir to the Chaonian empire, who is locked in a bitter battle with her warrior mother for power, and must deftly use her brain and loyal companions to defeat the Phene empire they are at war with.

Unconquerable Sun does take a little time to fully get into. Sun isn’t the most endearing of characters: in fact, for the first few chapters, I thought she was a whiny brat and was swaying towards Team Eireine (her mother). A lot of the book is from Sun’s POV, which did make it a little difficult to get into the first portion of this book. However, from the wedding feast onwards, I was enthralled. There is constant action and tension throughout, this story never ever lets up. It’s absolutely amazing. It might sound like near constant battles and races against team is too much, but I really didn’t think it was at all. I think that’s particularly down to the way Elliot has embedded so much plot behind every single battle? We see so much history of the world come out in the story when we battle the Phene; we see so much political shenanigans when we get the fights and tension with Perse; we see so much insight into the different cultures in the galaxy when we battle with the Gatoi; and we see so much depth and exploration of family when we see the fraught nature of Sun’s relationship with her mother. There is so much worldbuilding poured into each of these battles that every one seems so different but so important because you gain more insights into the world each time.

This is another book which has had a blurb that doesn’t prepare you for more than one POV going in, which I do think publishing needs to get better at because it is always rather jarring to go into a book you think is going to be about Sun, and then get four or five other POVs (The Bone Shard Daughter I’m looking at you as well). But much like with The Bone Shard Daughter, I also think Unconquerable Sun benefited from having these additional viewpoints. It’s very interesting to see into the POV of an enemy Phene soldier, though their importance isn’t really touched upon within this book so by the end I was questioning a little why they were there. I’m assuming we’ll see more of them in the sequel! Alongside Sun, the other major POV character is Perse, the daughter of the leader of one of the 7 houses holding up the Chaonian Empire, who ran away from home to be a soldier. Her path becomes entwined with Sun’s in a way neither of them want, but I found the development of their relationship fascinating. It was really interesting to see Sun’s opinions on Perse go back and forth depending on who she was talking to. It really highlighted Sun’s ability to manipulate and use people, but also emphasised how she gains loyalty from those around her. Zizou is another POV character who I absoluty loved. He’s a Gatoi soldier who has been captured, and his personal storyline was one of my favourites. The Gatoi are a very interesting race and I loved reading about their culture and how the Phene have manipulated them in their war, it was all absolutely fascinating.

Sun has other companions, although we don’t get their POVs, but each are so unique and they are all so brilliant! If anything, I wish we got more of them! Of course, I must hightlight Hetty, the Hephaestion to Sun’s Alexander, the secret lover always by her side. I found the protective nature of Sun’s personality hilarious around Hetty but was equally enamoured with the way Hetty refused to be put in the corner and hidden away.

This was a really fantastic read. Push past the first few chapters of bratty Sun to get to a thrilling military scifi that never gets boring despite the constant battles thanks to the mammoth world building and character development that is embedded into each of these battles. Loved this one, and I can’t wait for the sequel!

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