Kate Elliott’s upcoming space opera, 2020’s Unconquerable Sun , due out July 7th, is the first book in her new series, the Sun Chronicles.
Princess Sun returns to Molossia System having routed the Phene enemy. No official accolades await her. As far as her mother Queen-Marshal Eirene is concerned, Sun was competent, as expected. Nothing worth comment. Sun may be Eirene’s heir but she is held to an impossibly high standard and never loved or praised.
Although she is not fully aware of her danger, Sun’s status as heir is under threat.
Eight centuries earlier the Apsaras Convergence beacon system collapsed. High-speed interstellar travel had depended on this system. Only a few beacons and their associated transit routes survived; systems without working beacons were suddenly isolated, now reachable only via slow knnu drives. The few systems that retained their beacons are now potentially powerful … or valuable to others.
Eirene’s Republic of Chaonia is one of several polities to rise out of the ashes. Their two great rivals are the Yele League and the vast Phene Empire. Eirene brought the arrogant Yele to heel, reducing the League to subordinate status. Sun’s generation faces the grand task of dealing with the Phene.
Sun herself has connections to a seemingly minor nation. Her father Prince João is a Gatoi, scion of a nomadic nation whose wheelships limit themselves to the knnu drive. The Gatoi are aloof and don’t do much in the way of trade with their neighbours. Their primary export is mercenary bannermen, most of whom take service with the Phene. Being part-Gatoi is not a social plus; the Gatoi are seen by most Republic citizens as fanatics and homicidal death-seekers. Providentially for Sun, she and her Companions are adept at landing in the media spotlight. Her mother may not be fond of her, but the public loves Sun.
Eirene complicates matters by deciding to take a new consort. She doesn’t let her heir know of her plans. Sun and her Companions are sent off on a public relations tour; court news is carefully censored. Sun isn’t wanted at the wedding. She is so much not-wanted that a bomb is planted on her transport.
The bomb manages to kill one of Sun’s Companions but not Sun. Sun manages to make it to the wedding ceremony, where she is forced into a quarrel with her mother. She is accused of being a traitor to the Republic and finds herself on the run. Sun has only her Companions to protect her. And one of them is working for her mother’s new consort.
Then a Phene invasion fleet arrives.…
You may ask how it is that a Republic has a queen-marshal. Well, it’s called a Republic, but … the Republic’s government might be better described as military dictatorship leavened by savage inter-clan competition and occasional input from a media-obsessed mob. The government is authoritarian and the clans are authoritarian as well. Clan heads have no reluctance in sending lower-ranked expendables to do or die for the clan, without explanation. This, of course, just the sort of thing that never comes back to bite leaders on the ass at inopportune moments.
The series is pitched as a gender-swapped Alexander the Great, which tempted me to look for parallels between the novel and 4th century BCE Macedon. The Republic is Macedon; the arrogant Yele League is the Greek city-states; vast, autocratic Phene is the Achaemenid Empire. But I don’t think that Elliot merely rotoscopedancient history in building her world. I don’t think the Apsaras Convergence is a stand-in for the cultures swept away by the Bronze Age Collapse. The off-stage Celestial Empire might be China, but Persia wasn’t settled by nomads fleeing China; in the novel, Phene has roots in the Celestial Empire.
Oh, and I should add that the Bronze Age cultures of the Mediterranean did not (as far as I know) leave in their wake a transport system able to jaunt someone from one city to another in a comparative instant1.
This is a setting in which the lower classes of the various empires can’t improve their lot by changing empires and masters. If you had to choose between militaristic barbarians, snotty aristocrats, or a caste-ridden autocracy … well, that’s really no choice at all. It would be better to be born in a beacon-less system; the interstellar gulfs would protect you from empires and their wars2.
The protagonist, Sun, is colorful, compelling character, as are her Companions. The narrative is fast and absorbing, particularly after the queen-marshal’s wedding. Fights and chase sequences follow. The final fillip is the sudden appearance of the Phene war fleet.
It’s a long-ish book, but that gives the author room for both characterization and action.
I am very curious where this is heading but alas, a quick look at the ISFDB and the frequency with which Elliott produces new books in series suggests that I won’t see the sequel until 2021.
1: I find myself wondering if any road systems survived the Bronze Age Collapse but MUST RESIST. That would be to fall down a google hole.
2: I had much the same thought reading Walter Jon Williams’ Praxis books. Sublight interstellar travel was doable given the technology available and would place refugees beyond the reach of the oppressive government.