**Thank you to Orbit Books UK for providing me with a physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review**
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
Princess Altagracia has lost everything. After a bloody civil war, her twin sister has claimed not just the crown of their planet Szayet but the Pearl of its prophecy, a computer that contains the immortal soul of Szayet’s god. Stripped of her birthright, Gracia flees the planet—just as Matheus Ceirran, Commander of the interstellar Empire of Ceiao, arrives in deadly pursuit with his volatile lieutenant, Anita. When Gracia and Ceirran’s paths collide, Gracia sees an opportunity to win back her planet, her god, and her throne…if she can win the Commander and his right-hand officer over first.
But talking her way into Ceirran’s good graces, and his bed, is only the beginning. Dealing with the most powerful man in the galaxy is almost as dangerous as war, and Gracia is quickly torn between an alliance that fast becomes more than political and the wishes of the god—or machine—that whispers in her ear. For Szayet’s sake, and her own, Gracia will need to become more than a princess with a silver tongue. She will have to become a queen as history has never seen before—even if it breaks an empire.
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS?
A sci-fi epic for the history lovers, The Stars Undying is a ground-breaking debut that reimagines the lives and trysts of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony amidst the stars.
Through first person dual PoV, we follow Altagracia, princess of Szayet who is looking to reclaim her birth right from her twin sister, and the renowned Commander of the Galactic Empire of Ceioa, Matheus Cerrian whom she turns to in order to do so. It is a partnership that is mutually beneficial both in power and desire and was so interesting to watch unfold.
Now I went into this one with slightly different expectations. To put it simply, since this was described as a space opera I expected more space. The predominant sci-fi element is actually the technology, specifically the Pearl of Prophecy which is a computer containing the soul of the Szayet God that is passed down the line of succession of the Szayet throne. This had a likeness to the Imago technology of Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan duology. However, the emphasis of this particular story lies more with the opera side of things as it is a lot more characters focused with a storyline full of drama, fit for the stage.
“..there was strangeness in the universe, astonishing strangeness, and brutality, and beauty, which occurred for no other reason than the whims of Fortune herself.”
You are thrown into this very established universe from the get go and it took me some time to distinguish the planets, the languages and what was part of the Empire and what wasn’t. The worldbuilding for me felt less about the actual places and more about the individual cultures and histories that were being represented and Robin has done a fantastic job there.
Furthermore, there is also a beautiful balance in the narration in how Gracia and Cerrian have such different backgrounds and outlooks on life, yet mirror one another just so in arrogance and ambition. Though the most distinctive characteristic of their individual chapters comes down to how Gracia is very obviously recounting the story for the reader.
There is much scheming and political intrigue all intricately woven into casual conversations in such an impressive way throughout the book. What I was most fascinated by though was the divergent cultural backgrounds and attitude towards religion of the two characters, of the two nations and how they butted heads when it came to power and policy.
“You know why they behave like this, don’t you? Insist everyone act as they do, believe as they do, enter into their wonderful liberation. They’re a lonely people. Seeing someone without their ideals frightens them. They want to embrace him, to bring him into the fold. But however far they spread their thinking, the loneliness never goes away.”
However, I am quite conflicted on how I feel about this book as a whole. The writing is easy to follow but quite often dipped into being overly verbose and I found my mind wondering and not fully comprehending what was going on at times. It is also quite slow paced without many action heavy scenes and when there were moments of action, they lacked the spark and tension that is usual of space operas. I found myself intrigued at the beginning, dragging myself through the middle and then hooked in again towards the end.
In this way it reminded me a lot of She Who Became the Sun, another book that didn’t exactly meet my expectations but brilliantly conveyed the socio political environment of the era it was based on and involved such clever and well written character studies.
“I don’t know whether I believe in the immortality of the human soul. I don’t know. That’s true, Captain. But perhaps I do believe – in the the immortality of a man’s name. Might that be the same thing?”
I definitely feel like if you are more familiar with the actual history that this story is inspired by then you will be able to appreciate the nuances and parallels more. Yet despite my personal knowledge of these historic figures consisting of the basics, Robin slipped in original twists alongside subtle foreshadowing to make this story enjoyably its own. Also it says a lot when you go into a story knowing it’s a tragedy and come out the other end shocked with how much it hurt. Those last 50 or so pages really got me.
Though I feel like this book wrapped up nicely, I am curious to see how the story continues so will definitely be checking out the sequel.
The Stars Undying is OUT NOW!
INTERESTED IN THIS BOOK?