Kate Elliott’s Unconquerable Sun is a space opera of genre-defying dimensions. Elliott’s largely inactive blog bears the title I Make Up Worlds, a phrase that feels like an understatement when considering the breadth of detail, character development and story-building expertise Elliott displays in this epic tale inspired by the life of Alexander the Great.
The story follows three main characters whose lives eventually dovetail: Princess Sun Shān, heir to the Republic of Chaonia; Persephone “Perse” Lee, a former cadet who fled to the military to escape the conniving, poisonous noble House of Lee; and Apama At Sabao, four-armed lancer and lieutenant who discovers more than she bargained for about her heritage as she embarks upon life-threatening missions and rushes into galactic battles. In addition to seamlessly weaving together these very different voices, whose fascinating personal stories feel like they are only just beginning in this volume, Elliott structures the characters in intricate hierarchies and caste-like levels that reveal dangerous alliances, intertwinements and enemies as the plot unfurls.
Elliott’s stellar world building prowess is strengthened by the attention she pays to imagery inspired by the natural world, as well as ancient Greek and Asian history and culture, transposing the tales of empires, heirs, consorts and conquerors into space. Readers will grow protective and supportive of the three protagonists, but they will also relish the cultivation of relationships between the royals, like Sun, and their Companions (committed allies and at times consorts to the royals), and in turn, the Companions’ cee-cees (companions to the Companions), as these two groups revolve around Sun like, well, her planetary namesake, and help propel her through family deceit, warfare and political quicksand.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Kate Elliott on drawing from the distant past to create the future.
The Chaonian government doesn’t bat an eye at, and legally acknowledges, same-sex unions, and the book’s queer characters are interesting, genuine and developed beyond the mere fact of their sexual orientation. The government is run by ruthless and independent queen-marshals (a gender-neutral term), a position to which Sun will succeed one day unless another viable heir is quickly produced. Nevertheless, Elliott’s world is ravaged by rampant tensions and biases, with the Chaonians, Gatoi, Phenes and Yele, among other peoples and creatures, battling each other to attain control. Even in outer space, Elliott makes clear that differences worry and scare some, and inevitably lead to a power struggle over the vast spans of the galaxy.
As for Sun, the pivotal royal, she contains multitudes. She is, despite her unorthodox plans and youth, the Chaonians’—and possibly her world’s—last hope at removing the tarnished branches of the system and ensuring that the Core Houses and different peoples are able to see past bad blood and contrived hearsay. She and her newly cobbled crew ride into the jaws of danger and death, taking us along for the breathtakingly thrilling ride and leaving us craving the next installment.