I had high expectations for this novel – maybe too high – based on the story’s premise: an interstellar backdrop where conflicting powers measure their strength through politics and open war, where intrigue between influential families leads toward a constant shift of alliances and betrayals, while at the center of all this we follow a main character described as the female equivalent of Alexander the Great – the potential for a Dune-like epic was irresistible, but unfortunately Unconquerable Sun did not fulfill its promises as I hoped.
The Republic of Chaonia has managed to subdue or assimilate most of its enemies, and queen-marshal Eirene built her power-base through military victories and political alliances, a few of these signed though marriage contracts, like the one binding Eirene to Prince Joao and producing the heir, Princess Sun. Sun is struggling to make a name for herself, moving out of her mother’s encompassing shadow, by taking an active part in Chaonia’s military campaigns, but a sudden shift in the political winds turns her almost overnight into a fugitive, so she must rely on her finely-honed wits, the support of her Companions, and the help of a rival family’s member to regain her rightful place and overthrow an insidious conspiracy enacted by Chaonia’s most dangerous foes. The other two main POVs in the novel come from Persephone Lee, who unsuccessfully tries to escape her powerful family’s machinations by enrolling in the military academy under an assumed name, and ends up among Sun’s Companions; and from Apama, a pilot in the fleet of the Phene, Chaonia’s main adversaries: this was the most interesting character for me, and one of my main disappointments in the story came from the almost negligible “screen time” allotted to her after she was introduced.
At the start of the book I was intrigued, both by the fascinating background of this vast galactic milieu and by the potential shown by the characters: sadly, after a while it all seemed to turn into a confused and confusing jumble of daring escapes, heated battles and things going spectacularly boom, which might be all right if one wants only *adventure* and a plot-heavy story, but I prefer relatable characters in my reading material, and I soon realized that there was too little of that in this novel. More than once I thought that this story might work better as a movie – and as such it reminded me of The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, where the action overwhelmed any other consideration – but as a book I found it unfortunately lacking.
The sheer number of characters makes for a distracting experience because there is no time or space to get to know them, or to be able to differentiate between them – which is particularly true for Sun’s Companions – to the point that any harm befalling them leaves no lingering traces, and even when the story focuses on the main ones, like Sun or Persephone, it’s difficult to see them as people rather than stereotypes. Sun is presented as very determined, but from my point of view she comes off rather as an overbearing spoiled brat, and Persephone – who is strangely given a more detailed focus than the actual main character – is an unpleasant combination of meanness and self-pity, while the author keeps telling us that she is a shrewd operator, mostly by calling her “the wily Persephone” in the title of each chapter where she is the focus. And goodness, does she make a lot of embarrassing mistakes for someone who spent the last few years in the academy being honed for military service!
Despite these problems, which became evident after the first handful of chapters, I kept on reading in the hope that the story would find its footing and become the compelling tale promised by the blurb, but as the page count progressed it became more and more apparent that I would not find what I looked for: even skimming over the most repetitive sequences of Sun & Co. running for their lives and then being involved in a long, drawn-out battle that went on and on and on, I failed to find anything that would hold my interest. Once the characters started to adopt the less palatable traits of the YA mold, like unnecessary cattiness or insta-lust for anything moving into their field of vision (yes, Persephone, I’m looking right at you…), I knew that Unconquerable Sun would turn into a lost cause: as Sun took over a Chaonian vessel, ousting a seasoned captain to take command of the operations, I knew that this “Mary Sue maneuver” would be the proverbial straw, and decided to put an end to my suffering.
I’m aware that my personal biases are responsible for my negative reaction to this novel, which is the main reason I must warn you to take my opinion with a grain of salt, but when all is said and done, this is certainly not a book for me.