A complex and politically charged space opera
The Stars Undying is a fascinating and complex novel, which marries both science fiction and ancient mythology in a richly detailed world. There are plenty of parallels here with both Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, and that’s perhaps unsurprising given that those two are the inspiration for the story that follows.
The plot oscillates between two perspectives, the first comes from the Altagracia princes, who have lost everything. After a bitter civil war with her twin sister Alectelo, Gracia flees and seeks the help of a powerful and wise man who just happens to rule most of the Swordbelt Arm; Matheus Ceirran.
The commander of the Interstellar Empire of Ceiao is accompanied by his right-hand man Anita, who doesn’t really appreciate Gracia’s unconventional approach to asking for help. However, Gracia’s ties to Ceirran eventually tie their fates together and as the pair play a deadly mental game of chess, trying to get rid of each other, Anita waits in the wings, ever watchful – and ever vigilant.
What soon ensues is an intriguing tale that takes on two hues – one from Ceirran’s perspective and the other from Gracia. Both are actually pretty unreliable storytellers, with Gracia even nonchalantly throwing out a few big lies to trick us into believing a certain truth, only to then backtrack with a surprise chapter that contradicts that. I’m careful not to spoil anything here, but the latter part of the book does a great job of capturing that, reframing what we’ve seen through the book.
Although it’s been dubbed a space opera, it’s much less of a frantic adventure of laser battles and daring dogfights in space and much more of a politically charged drama. The second part of this story in particular comes to an abrupt end, reveling in its slow pace and – very often – occasionally laborious, with plenty of politics to boot.
As the story moves through the home planet of Ceirran (which is basically Rome, let’s be honest), it comes with a lot of political backstabbing, power plays, council meetings, and long discussions and parties. Essentially, we’re told about events happening around the galaxy rather than being shown.
Where this book really excels is with its characters. Emery Robin has crafted a truly fascinating narrative here and Gracia and Ceirran are complex, flawed and unpredictable actors in this game. There are also Alekso and Anita who make up the four main actors in this tale, but the latter is the real protagonist here . The way Anita is written is fascinating and we see her from both Gracia’s and Ceirran’s perspective, and she constantly evolves and surprises through over 500 pages.
The Stars Undying is one of those books that is likely to get mixed reactions from many readers. It’s really well written without a doubt, but the writing style relies on long world-building paragraphs as well as lots of name deletions. In fact, when the story moves to Ceirran’s home, the number of ministers and officials that pop up can be quite overwhelming.
The whole thing is pretty diverse across the board and there are some pretty steamy sex scenes here as well, but ultimately it carries over to that idea of power. Power is the central theme of the story and you can feel it through the chapters of Ceirran and Gracia. The gravity of their actions, echoing that of Caesar and Cleopatra from our own story, is so well constructed and understanding what drives the couple will make you want to pick up a history book and learn more about the story. Ancient.
The Stars Undying is a complex and sometimes difficult book to read. It’s not advisable to binge, given the detail brought to its characters and worlds. It’s the one you need to savor over time, although that taste may be more acquired than some would like. The middle of the book sags a bit, but thankfully a strong opening and closing act is worth persevering with. The Stars Undying isn’t perfect, but as a first novel it’s a commendable undertaking and certainly worth reading.
Our thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown Book Group for the advanced reader’s copy! The Eternal Stars will be published on November 8, 2022. You can pre-order the novel here!