Reviewing the final book of a series is always a strange affair. There’s the need to not repeat too much from the previous reviews, and the need to avoid spoiling anything for those who still haven’t read the earlier books. Plus the review should be interesting for both those who have and those who haven’t read what came before.
I’m taking the easy way out, and opt for a rather short write-up. Should you decide to just skim this review, no problemo, but please, don’t miss the quote near the end.
Steles Of The Sky is the sequel to Shattered Pillars – one of the best books I read in 2015 – and the last book of the Eternal Sky trilogy. Together they form one long story that needs to be read in order. It is set on something “resembling the steppes, deserts and mountain ranges of Eurasia after the death of Genghis Khan” I wrote in the review of Range Of Ghosts, but that needs a caveat: Steles features a riffle, and that adds a bit of 19th century flavor. This one riffle doesn’t appear out of place at all, and that fact that it’s even in the book shows Bear’s willingness to take a chance, and her restraint too. In the hands of a lesser writer, the riffle might have turned entire chapters of the book into something steampunkish, out of the fashionable need to explicitely blend genres.
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. Continue reading
This is an excellent book, albeit the fact that it suffers heavily from the fact that it is the first in a trilogy: it’s not self-contained and it takes a long time to get used to all the names and politics of the world – there’s hardly any infodump in Range of Ghosts, and that’s the way I like it.
Bear creates a fascinating, original fantasy world set in something resembling the steppes, deserts and mountain ranges of Eurasia after the death of Genghis Khan. It’s heavily inspired by this period and setting – names and geography clearly intend to reference the human reality, and there’s a lot of attention to realistic details about horses and the likes – but Bear very much does her own thing with it. It’s not a historical novel at all, a lot is added and at times Range of Ghosts almost has a mythological feel to it.
Although the book is only 330 pages long, it’s not a quick read: there’s the complexity of the world I mentioned, and also the strangely lucid, beautiful prose of Bear, that needs a careful reading to appreciate.
The characters are interesting, but generally rather static, since not that much happens to them in this first volume – that builds up slowly. So, the scene is wonderfully set, and obviously I’m eager to start in the next installment of The Eternal Sky.
originally written on the 12th of June, 2015