I have been a fan of Kate Elliott’s writing for a long time – see my reviews of the Crown of Stars series and Cold Magic. So when I heard that she was writing a space opera, reverse-gender version of Alexander the Great’s life – I was extremely excited.
BLURB: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.
REVIEW: I don’t know all that much about Alexander the Great’s life, especially his upbringing. But if he had even half of the issues to deal with when growing up that poor Sun is confronted with, then it’s hardly surprising that he grew up to conquer a goodly chunk of the known world. After all, it would be the only way to keep himself and those he cared about safe.
This full-scale adventure set in space has a fairly complicated setup, and I needed to pay attention, as Elliott doesn’t do large info-dumps (yippee!). It is also in multiple point of view, though the first-person viewpoint is in Persephone Lee, who is trying to escape from a toxic upbringing, where love and approval are in short supply.
Sun, the fiery and charismatic heir of a charismatic and fiery ruler, isn’t in any danger of getting too much parental praise, either. Her mother, the legendary queen-marshal, who managed to stabilise Chaonia and turn it into a state to be reckoned with, tends to spectacularly butt heads with her daughter. And there are plenty around her who are only too willing to see Sun disinherited and disgraced for their own political ends. Initially, I had thought this was going to be one of those tense, court intrigues where a single misstep or unguarded remark can have dire consequences. I wasn’t unhappy with the prospect as I rather enjoy that dynamic – but when it all kicked off, the full-tilt forward momentum was breathless, sharpened when several of Sun’s beloved and trusted companions die.
I loved this one. It’s over 500 pages long, but it certainly didn’t feel like it and I reached the climactic and satisfying ending with a sense of loss. I wanted more, which is always a good sign. Elliott hits all the main tropes of space opera with panache, including a cracking space battle that had me holding my breath as I turned the pages – and I’m now really, really looking forward to the next book in the series.
Very highly recommended for fans of fast-moving space opera with dynamic characters and plenty of plot twists. While I obtained an arc of Unconquerable Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I am still struggling with my energy levels – it feels as though I’m wading through treacle. So it’s been a quiet week, other than a meeting on Friday with Sally and Tim to discuss his upcoming year. He has worked on an impressive number of projects since Lockdown started and it was lovely seeing him. I’m looking forward to teaching him again.
The photos this week are from our 25th Wedding Anniversary visit to the Ashdown Forest, when we got lost. I look that the bright sunshine with wistful yearning. The second half of the week has turned really chilly with a biting northerly blowing and I want the warm weather back!
Last week I read:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage… This is a cracking historical murder mystery and I particularly enjoyed the denouement, which was extremely well done. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Lies Sleeping – Book 7 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.
But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees. It’s been a while since I read any books in this series – but I loved the fabulous narration by Kobna Holbrook-Smith, who did a stunning job in bringing Peter Grant to life. Review to follow.
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott 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. I loved this one! Elliott’s gift for producing compelling characters and intriguing worlds worked really well. There are also a couple of cracking battle scenes, too… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island.
Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet . . . This is yet another gem from Frank’s Audible backlist – I absolutely loved it and was definitely in the mood for the quirky humour and series of mishaps that follow Harry and Uncle Tristram. Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Managing Expectations, One Book at a Time https://writerunboxed.com/2020/09/24/managing-expectations-one-book-at-a-time/While this is aimed at writers, I also think is something that is something that readers should consider. That famous second-book slump might also be partly caused by our feverish anticipation to be transported back to that surprising, new place we’d discovered – only to find the excited expectation leads to disappointment…
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott – release date 1st October, 2020
#science fiction #space opera #gender-swapped Alexander the Great retelling
BLURB: 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.
The great Kate Elliott writing space opera! AND retelling the amazing story of Alexander the Great, but set in space – with a heroine… *bouncing on my seat with excitement* AND I’ve been approved for a Netgalley arc!!
Annddd… I need to calm down a bit. Picking up a book with toooo much anticipation is a sure-fire way for massive disappointment. But – that will be something of a struggle regarding this one! Fingers crossed that it’s as awesome a read as I’m hoping for.
I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.
Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom? This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott 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. A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.
Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. I love a great school story and have read one book from another cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.
Biggest Disappointment Q by Christina Dalcher Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back. Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.
Biggest Surprise You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far). Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.
Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother. This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.
Favourite New Author Marilyn Messik I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series!This is my review of Relatively Strange.
Newest Fictional Crush Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…
Newest Favourite Character Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.
Book That Made You Cry The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.
Book That Made You Happy The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.
The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too. A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.
Favourite Book to Film adaptation Sanditon by Jane Austen Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year Underland by Robert MacFarlane In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.” This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?
What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year? As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…
This offering is the first of Kate Elliott’s latest world – and if you’re a fantasy fan you’ll know that she is one of the leading talents in the field. She is excellent at providing interesting, multi-layered worlds and is also adept at producing satisfying complex characters – a combination that doesn’t always go together. However, there is a major shift in this series – Elliott tells the story in Cold Magic in first person POV throughout. Up to now, she has shown herself very capable of fielding a large cast of characters without overwhelming her readers or losing any momentum. Can she manage to convey the full richness of her world through this single character’s viewpoint?
As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. And the cousins are about to discover the full ruthlessness of this rule.
Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood and old feuds, Cat is forced to marry a Cold Mage. As she is carried away to live a new life, fresh dangers threaten her every move and secrets form a language she cannot read. At least, not yet. But both cousins carry their own hidden gifts and these will shape great changes to come. For in the depths of this treacherous world, the Wild Hunt stirs in darkness and dragons are waking from their sleep.
And, make no mistake, this is a rich and interesting world. Elliott herself describes it as “An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.” So do we gain a sense of the full layered intricacy of this world through Cat’s eyes? The answer has to be – no, we don’t. Not even after reading the second book in the series, Cold Fire, do I get a sense that I’ve done more than graze the surface of this fascinating world. Am I bothered? Not, particularly, no. This might be a world that Elliott may well revisit with another series – the trolls, actually descended from dinosaurs, only play a walk-on part in this Cat-centred adventure and I’d love to read more about them. But even if Elliott doesn’t decide to use this world again, I’m still not going to lose much sleep over it. If she chooses to roll out a world of this richness and then only play in a corner of it, that’s hardly going to impact on my reading pleasure – unless she doesn’t produce a sufficiently interesting storyline with a convincingly complex cast of characters. And she does.
For starters, Cat is completely believable as a twenty year old. I get more than a tad fed up with ‘young’ characters who when confronted with difficult situations suddenly produce the wisdom and finesse of a fifty-something. Cat is impetuous, a bit of an airhead who loves teasing her cousin, and is very interested in clothes. Always. The driving relationship within this book is her attachment with Bee, her cousin and best friend. The romantic storyline is a lot stronger in Cold Fire, where Cat’s relationship with Andevai, her husband, is examined in more detail – along with the unfolding plotline about exactly who is her father.
Like Elliott’s world, this tale is something of a mash-up. There are elements easily recognisable from epic Fantasy – a power struggle involving scary magic users and super-talented individuals with a Destiny; but there is also a fairly strong romantic element and some of Cat’s character traits wouldn’t be out of place in an urban fantasy. However, one of the main engines driving the book is the political unrest coming from the bottom up – the fact that the population are increasingly unhappy at the way the Mages have stepped into the power vacuum left once the Romans retreated, which has echoes of Julia E. McKenna’s Lescari Revolution series. This is a sign that the Fantasy genre is all grown up and fully mature, when its most capable authors are able to play these sorts of games with the sub-genres. I’m really hoping the fans will prove to be as flexible.
A thoroughly enjoyable read by an accomplished writer at the height of her powers, I’m very much looking forward to reading the last book in the series and recommend you track down this gem.
Volume One – King’s Dragon Volume Two – Prince of Dogs Volume Three – The Burning Stone Volume Four – Child of Flame Volume Five – Gathering Storm Volume Six – In the Ruins Volume Seven – Crown of Stars
The word ‘epic’ is slung around far too freely, in my opinion. Any fantasy or science fiction story that overflows to more than one volume seems to attract the word. Which is a shame when you finally trip over a work that really does deserve the appendage ‘epic’. And surely a seven-book marathon that successfully manages to keep hold of a large cast of characters; produce sufficient twists in the long-running plot without overwhelming the reader and manufacture a sophisticated world should be right up there as an epic. This series has been seriously overlooked as a shining example of classic high fantasy.
The action largely revolves around the kingdom of Wendar, although as rebellions and betrayals multiply, neighbouring countries move to take advantage of King Henry’s troubles. As the fighting intensifies, we have a detailed insight into the machinations of the plotters as they jostle for power. Elliott has written that she took medieval Europe as a template for the political situation – and I think it shows. Amongst the shifting alliances and set-piece battles, the world, along with its customs, history and religious practices, is clearly portrayed without any appreciable check in the narrative pace – a cool trick to pull off as those of us who write speculative fiction know only too well.
Some of the main themes addressed in the series include the nature of love – when does legitimate affection tip into obsession? What happens when duty and love conflict? The price of power, both natural and supernatural, is also explored – and the conclusion seems to be that those with the greatest mastery also suffer the most lethal consequences. A rule which takes the plot in some interesting and unexpected directions… Varying attitudes to religious dogma are also examined, along with the different motivations for fanaticism – an uncomfortably pertinent theme these days.
A wealth of engrossing sub-plots wriggle throughout the series involving an impressive number of memorable characters, without any resultant annoyance or confusion. And this is from someone with such a low tolerance of multi-view adventures, I hurled George R.R. Martin’s Storm of Swords across the room in fury…
Any particular favourites among the seven volumes? As it happens, I found the second volume, Prince of Dogs, particularly engrossing. The encounter between a couple of the main protagonists and the resulting riveting outcome had me reading till the wee small hours. All the books make compulsive reading – but that particular one will lodge in my memory for a long, long time.
Throughout the series we follow the fortunes and disasters of Sanglant, King Henry’s bastard, half-human son who becomes a target when the King clearly shows his preference for him over his three legitimate half-siblings; Sister Rosvita, court advisor and chronicler who finds herself unwillingly swept up in the thick of the fighting; the beautiful and mysterious Liath, who spent her childhood fleeing an unknown, terrible enemy; Hugh, whose thirst for forbidden knowledge is nearly as fierce as his passion for Liath; and Alain, a foundling raised in humble circumstances, whose fortunes become completely entangled in Wendar’s woes. All these characters – and a host of others, are depicted with pleasing complexity. Each one has strengths and weaknesses that impact on the overall story. If I have a niggle – and it is a small one, given the overall strength of the series – I would have liked to have seen more of Anne and her motivations. She is the only character vital to the storyline that I feel could have been more developed.
In addition to the human world, other races include the exiled Ashioi and my personal favourite – the amazing Rock Children and their war leader, Stronghand. The system of magic in the Crown of Stars is pleasingly original and detailed – especially with the steadily increasing tension as the lead characters struggle to make sense of the growing threat to the world.
Of course, you also have to feel the investment in time, emotional energy and the sheer labour of reading seven hefty volumes pays off in a suitably satisfying ending. This was, I confess, a growing concern of mine as I got to the seventh and last book – it happens to be a real personal bugbear. However, Elliott manages to tick that box, too. The characters and storyline reach a variety of conclusions that succeed in tying up the multitude of loose ends. All in all, if you enjoy becoming totally immersed in a complex, well written world, peopled with a wide-ranging set of characters that moves along at a fair clip, then the whole series represents a solidly rewarding five star read.