Steles of the Sky
by Elizabeth Bear
Tor, $26.99, 429pp
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
This was a very interesting tale. It takes place in a landscape reminiscent of the Mongol steppes. It is not Earth; this is a fascinating world where the skies change from empire to empire, reflective of the respective gods. This is the third in a trilogy, click here to see the review of the first book, Range of Ghosts and here for the second book, Shattered Pillars.
Temur and Samarkar continue to search for Edene, finally realizing she is free but unable to find her; they decide to set out for Dragon Lake and make his claim to the throne of his father. Edene finds herself a Queen of dead things and poisonous things due to a ring she now wears from the lost and dead kingdom of Erem. She’s also carrying Temur’s heir and wonders at the effect of birthing the child under the dangerous skies of Erem; but it’s not as if she has a choice. Edene is also on the move when she discovers evidence that Temur and another are searching for her. Once she knows this, she realizes she’ll be able to reunite with her love by following him to Dragon Lake; and she has an army behind her to offer to him. The fact that he travels with a women that he is sleeping with is of some concern to Edene; but not as much when she discerns the woman is sterile no threat to her son. Samarkar is sleeping with Temur and in love with him. She sees no irony in her helping him search for his lost woman; she worries only that she may be forced to abandon him.
Brother Hsiung has left his friends to return to the monastery he fled from under the promise of punishment. But he sees no other way to bring necessary help to Temur’s banner. He throws himself on the mercy of the leader of his order and is shocked at his reception. In true heroic fashion, Hsiung finds he can make a difference but it will, of course, take great sacrifice.
Al-Sephyr continues his quest to conquer the world; primarily with magic, the help of his captive giant bird, the Ruhk, and his adoptive daughter who has her twin brother’s mind within her own. He sends her to seduce the pretender to the throne, Temur’s uncle; and she succeeds with an heir in her belly. The great armies come together at Dragon Lake in an epic battle. As many of these things go, our hero underdog, Temur, finds himself outnumbered and must find more allies to supplement his army. He does, at the nth hour, and in the nick of time. But victory often has an unexpected price.
This really was a grand vision and the author did an excellent job of plotting. The action was fast and almost non-stop. As with many fantasy worlds, the reader has to be able to keep up with unfamiliar, and often unpronounceable, names which can really slow the pace down. So I confess to having some difficulty keeping the characters straight in my head and this was a problem through both of the first two books. In this book, I finally was able to keep up with each storyline and so I appreciated the finale more than I thought I would. ~~ Catherine Book
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