#SciFiMonth Book Review: The Stars Undying by Emery Robin
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Empire Without End
Publisher: Orbit (November 8, 2022)
Length: 528 pages
The Stars Undying is the debut novel of Emery Robin, the first volume of the Empire Without End series inspired by the lives of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony with a space opera twist.
The story opens with an introduction to Princess Gracia of the planet Szayet, recently forced into exile after losing everything in a bloody civil war to her twin sister. In a last desperate attempt to regain her throne, Gracia turns her focus on winning over Matheus Ceirran, the commander of the Empire of Ceiao who has just arrived on-planet with his trusted lieutenant Anita.
But striking a deal with a foreign power has its costs, as Gracia soon discovers once her birthright is returned to her. Back in her possession is the Pearl of the Dead, a family relic containing the AI consciousness of Szayet’s founder, the legendary conqueror Alekso, who is not at all happy with her new alliances. As Gracia and Ceirran grow closer under the disapproving gaze of Anita, the Empire of Ceia is also facing instability resulting from internal conflict amongst the merchant guilds.
As the plot unfolds, the chapters mostly alternate between Gracia and Ceirran’s perspectives, gradually following the trajectory of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar’s lives. For those who are even passing familiar with the historical events, it will be easier to understand the story behind The Stars Undying and find even more about it to enjoy.
But first, readers will have to contend with the plodding pace. The Stars Undying is probably best described as a slow burn political drama—emphasis on slow. If I were to rate the book based solely on the contents of its first half, I’d give it no higher than a 2. The prose itself very rich and lyrical but also very dense, describing laboriously the internal thoughts of the characters. With so much classical history involved, it’s inevitable too that the introduction requires much setup and a deluge of information which readers will need to persevere against in order to finally get to the good parts.
When the good parts do come though, it’s well worth the wait. In fact, the second half of the novel probably rates 4 stars or higher, as the seeds sown earlier in the book come to fruition and the heavier emphasis on the political intrigue begins working in its favor. The scope of the story narrows to focus on the interplay between the key characters while at the same time expanding to encompass the power games, backroom deals and other political shenanigans of Ceian empire, which is essentially ancient Rome.
For the most part, the overall story also adheres to the historical record, though my favorite aspect of the book was probably the Pearl of prophecy, a computer which contains the “soul” of Szayet’s god and founder, whom you might have guessed by now is modeled upon Alexander the Great. Rightful rulers of Szayet receive the wisdom and prophecies of Alekso by “plugging” the Pearl’s program directly into their brains, a very unique concept in what might otherwise be considered a run-of-the-mill retelling. I wish the book had contained more of these types of sci-fi elements.
Overall, I enjoyed The Stars Undying a little more than I expected. Granted, having read a few reviews of the book which warned against the slower pace of the first half, I was able to push through to the good parts in the second half, with my final rating reflecting the middle ground between the two extremes. For now, tentatively, I have plans to continue the series, partly because I think the rest of it has potential especially if Emery Robin has more interesting ideas waiting in the wings. More plainly though, with The Stars Undying so deeply incorporating the story of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony, history tells me the best is yet to come.