It’s always a thrill when the second book you read of an author turns out to be as good as the first. Thrilling, but sometimes daunting too, since it usually means my TBR-pile grows with a substantial number of titles. Could be 26, in the case of Elizabeth Bear. Shattered Pillars is even better than Range of Ghosts, the book it is a sequel to.
That’s not only because it’s not the first of a trilogy, and as such doesn’t suffer from having to set up things. So yes, as a reader you know the characters better, and you’re more immersed in the world from the onset. But it’s also because this second book of The Eternal Sky pays more attention to the emotions of the characters, has a broader setting and generally tells a more adventurous story – including a handful of exciting, original action scenes. It’s also darker: the blood magic of Al-Sepehr provides for some chilling pages.
The prose of Shattered Pillars seems even more lucid, precise and crisp than its predecessor: this is not a book to read for the story alone. I hardly ever come across authors that use a relatively high amount of words I didn’t know and yet don’t feel pedant. So when Bear uses words like liniment, bier, cantilevered, portico, succor, alembic, persimmon, stolidly, tassel, lehr, erg, crenellated, pinions, filly, distend, febrile, pate, caparison or curlicues they always feel in place, set with care and precision, like small diamonds in an already graceful jewel.
These three quotes are samples of Bear’s mastery of language:
Someone less schooled by years of court than Samarkar would have glanced at the messenger in confusion, or at least lowered her gaze. Samarkar felt her own face grow still, the traces of amusement dropping from the corners of her mouth and eyes. It was almost a numbness, the creeping tingle of impassivity that she had learned so early and well. She wondered if anyone – even Temur – could spot the way her pulse drummed so suddenly in her throat.
The windows were shaded by the louvered blinds that were so common here under the killing Uthman sun, but a warm breeze and slanted slats of light still eased through them.
Distantly, he heard cries: alarm, wonder. They did not turn his head. He had eyes only for the column of smoke and fire mounting the night, wreathed in a coruscating lace of violet lightning, too bright to look at and too terrible to look away from. The thunder rumbled softer, higher overtones to the voice of the mountain.
This is a book without characters dialoguing to explain the plot to the reader, without obvious foreshadowing, without farfetched similes, without plot holes, without repetition, without worn-out clichés and without general cheapness. It’s also timeless and doesn’t feel the need to convey a message or a lesson to the reader. It’ll be just as good in 50 or 100 years. And since it’s not science fiction, its future predictions won’t be off either! What’s not to like here?
The way Bear blends Eurasian mythology and fantasy to something entirely her own is truly something to behold. This is a unique series, and Steles Of The Sky undoubtedly will prove to be a fantastic conclusion to the story. Highly, highly recommended, especially for those who think fantasy is a dead genre. Shattered Pillars is of the rare 5 out of 5 stars caliber.