Genre: Sci-Fi retelling Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: yes - first book
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.
Like any good space operas, UNCONQUERABLE SUN is a book stuffed full of brilliant characters. The cast is a crucial aspect of any space opera working. If the characters don’t have a good dynamic, full of tension and rapport, then the book loses its heart.
Inspired by the cast of UNCONQUERABLE SUN, here’s a look at some characters who’d make up a great space-opera crew. I can’t promise they’d get on, but hey, that’s half the fun!
Who doesn’t love a bold, daring heir to an empire defying the odds and anyone who gets in their way?
Eris, from SEVEN DEVILS, by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May, is another bold heir to a towering galactic empire in this epic, feminist space opera.
Unwilling to continue upholding her family’s blood-thirsty dominion, Eris has faked her death and joined the rebellion, using her insiders’ knowledge to keep the rebels from being destroyed. Hardly anyone knows who she is, and she plans to keep it this way.
I loved the fact that the reader knew Eris was a hidden heir from the start – rather than having it as a late reveal. It meant more time could be spent dissecting why she’d left, and how her identity those in the know – particularly those who hate her but have to work with her.
The counterbalance to the bold, confidence heir is the reluctant one. Unwilling to take up the mantle laid on them, this character must step into their own if the galaxy is to survive.
Not an heir in the traditional sense, but this scene-stealing, utterly done with the galaxy Scot is too brilliant not to include! Admiral Frazer McLennan is an infamous hero who defeated the Strum the last time they attacked in THE CRUEL STARS, by John Birmingham.
The last thing McLennan wants is the attention and adoration of grateful humanity, his cranky ways shocking the most persistent. He just wants to forget it ever happened and be left to his excavations of forgotten history in peace. However, when the Strum return, it’s time to dust off his uniform (metaphorically, of course – why bother with uniform when you can shock the uptight military by turning up nude?) and return to the fight before the young whippersnappers can inevitably ruin everything.
Alas from the games of fate and villains. They like to play with the lives of characters who don’t know how important they are.
Poor Di! That was my friend’s and my first response to the shocking end-of-book cliff-hanger when we buddy read this series. The best friend of the central character, Ana, in HEART OF IRON, by Ashley Poston, he is utterly loyal and always there for his friend. However, fate – and the villains – have other ideas – in this Anastasia-in-space retelling. Perhaps if you know the film, you’ll be a little more prepared, but it won’t spare your heart the distress!
His arc across the duology is the best part of the series, utterly riveting as I desperately hoped he’d be able to free himself from the games he didn’t know he was intrinsic to. The second book also uses POV chapter headings to great effect as part of the arc. I let out a small cheer at a certain heading!
Caught perhaps between duty and desire, or family and friends, the pawn is being used by everyone for their own ends. With no control over their actions, this character is trapped between a rock and a hard place.
THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET, by Becky Chambers, is far from a traditional space opera. It’s a much quieter space opera that focuses less on the overarching plot and need to defeat evil and more on the character dynamics.
Captain Ashby Santoso knows there’s something going on behind the scenes when a too-good-to-be-true offer comes his way. Sure, the location is dangerous and the journey through deep space is a long one, but this is the job that could save his struggling crew – a fact that is painfully obvious to all. So what exactly is behind the mission and can he keep the crew safe through the dangers of space long enough to claim the reward?
No space opera is complete – and no band of friends/allies able to stay alive long – without the street-smart member to stop the idealists from killing them all.
I could have filled this entire tag with characters from AURORA RISING, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, but that would have been besides the point. Instead, I’ve saved the best until last and picked Scarlett Jones, the Face of her crew – able to talk her way out of any situation.
Well versed in the ways of the cultures her crew encounters, Scarlett has her work cut out for her making sure the brash tinderbox of personalities around her don’t destroy each other – or get them killed. From ensuring everyone is well dresses – to crash a ball or blend in on the streets – to smoothing over any faux-pas, Scarlett is on clued-up cookie.
About the Author:
Kate Elliott has been writing stories since she was nine years old, which has led her to believe that writing, like breathing, keeps her alive. Writing science-fiction and fantasy, her particular focus is immersive world building and centering women in epic stories of adventure, amid transformative cultural change. Kate was born in Iowa, raised in Oregon and now lives in Hawaii, where she paddles outrigger canoes and spoils her schnauzer
You can find her on her website here.