The Stars Undying, by Emery Robin
A spectacular space opera debut perfect for readers of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, inspired by the lives and loves of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.
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.
My Review (4 out of 5 )
Disclaimer: Thanks to Orbit Books and Nazia Khatun for sending me an ARC of The Stars Undying. This hasn’t influenced either the score or the review.
The Stars Undying is the strong debut of Californian writer Emery Robin. I’m a big fan of classical history and space operas, so reading a retelling of the Cleopatra and Julio Cesar story, in an imaginary system of planets, was an easy decision for me. And I don’t regret that decision, as I’ve enjoyed greatly reading The Stars Undying.
We are introduced to Altagracia, the princess who has been dethroned by her sister after a bloody civil war (representing Cleopatra), losing also the Pearl, and whose only hope is to get the help and confidence of Matheus Ceirran, Commander of the interstellar empire of Ceiao. Crossing the path of Gracia and Ceirran will start a relationship where the princess will have to measure each one of her words, thinking about what’s the best she can do in favour of Szayet, her planet; even if this might hurt the empire. It’s her duty as queen of Szayet.
This book is a great example of how to mix an old story into a futuristic setting, but still keep enough elements that make it feel familiar, taking it as a great base to write an outstanding story. As usually happens in space operas, we are going to follow an story that involves several planets, wars, and colonies; with most of the narrative plot centered on Szayet and how the actions of our characters will affect it. Robin shows great talent for writing, with an almost lyrical prose, taking this classical story to a new level, making The Stars Undying a love letter to its inspirations.
It is narrated using two different first-of-person POVs, one being Altagracia, and the other, Ceirran’s (during almost all of the novel). This decision allows us to intimate more with the characters, as their thoughts and feelings are clearly shown to us, bringing the focus to the relationship between Gracia and the commander, how it evolves, and how she starts to gain influence over him, something that gets reflected on how he starts asking for counsel on her; but also falling in love with the time, even if they started as pure convenience partners.
As said, in terms of prose, this is an excellent debut for Emery Robin, showing her crafting an engaging story while keeping the beauty of words. Despite this, I feel the pace sometimes suffers from certain decisions, which is especially glaring in some of the tensest points of the plot. Taking some of the narrative weight on some parts could have helped alleviate this irregularity.
In summary, The Stars Undying is a great debut, and an excellent space opera by Emery Robin. As a fan of retellings, I’m so happy with how this year has got several great ones (as the book we are reviewing); and even if you are only a fan of sci-fi or of sci-fantasy, this book might be the perfect election for the November month.
Emery Robin is a paralegal, recovering Californian, and sometime student of propaganda and art history living in New York City.