Read Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear Online


Elizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy trilogyRe Temur, exiled heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather his army of followers.Temur hasElizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy trilogyRe Temur, exiled heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather his army of followers.Temur has many enemies, and they are not idle. The sorcerer who leads the Nameless Assassins, whose malice has shattered the peace of all the empires of the Celedon Highway, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, a magical plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. And in the hidden ancient empire of Erem, Temur’s son has been born and a new moon has risen in the Eternal Sky....

Title : Steles of the Sky
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780765327567
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Steles of the Sky Reviews

  • The Shayne-Train
    2019-05-02 01:40

    What a beautiful and satisfying finish to an amazingly well-written fantasy trilogy. This series has a brain and a heart behind the guts and swords of regular fantasy fiction. The varied characters are so fleshed-out and developed.And one of the main ideas of this fantasy world is that of the sky: in any given region, the sky above your head is the sky of the religion of the ruler or occupier of that region. So there may be multiple moons speeding across the sky, or a "hard" sun and a "soft" sun without a true night, or a sun that burns everything it touches so life may only happen at night. And then, if that region is taken over by an invading army, the sky changes, man. Such an original and fascinating aspect of this world.I seriously cannot say enough good things about this series, and this close-to-perfect finishing chapter of it.

  • Solomon Foster
    2019-05-19 04:03

    I wish I had an emergency six-star rating to go to for this book and trilogy. It was easily my favorite epic fantasy in decades, filled with wonders, interesting viewpoints, larger than life characters, and at least a dozen satisfying character arcs. At the same time it has an admirable compactness; a lot of authors would have spent three or four times as many pages telling the same story, and been less effective because of it.A perfect story that I look forward to rereading again and again.

  • Robyn
    2019-04-25 00:05

    A thrilling and heart-breaking conclusion to the trilogy. One of my favourite things that I've read this year - these books have it all.

  • Beth
    2019-04-24 01:07

    Glacially paced and largely irrelevant for the bulk of the novel. The last ten percent picks up the pace, but it's completely predictable - or would have been, had I cared enough to predict. (view spoiler)[After all, the death is one option I'd thought possible for the final Harry Potter book, except I didn't care at all about Temur's death; he didn't exist as a character but as the rallying point with two wives who didn't hate each other. (I'm glossing over the part where Edene decided not to hate Samarkar, even before they met, because she could tell by the scent that Samarkar couldn't have children. Whatever.) And obviously, unlike the emperor's wives, these women ~rise above themselves, because - they are inherently better, for no explained reason? United by some common cause, despite barely being in the same room? Temur is that great at bringing people together, huh. He even makes women forget they should dislike each other. WHEW. If only we were shown how Temur is actually different. Instead he travels gathering an army, bolstered by the right of birth. Doesn't that sound - familiar? (hide spoiler)]There is a more interesting story to tell here, about a foreign culture with no connection to the world as we know it - past or present - which would challenge assumptions we make about everyday life. Except this book is laced with very familiar misogyny and curses, and so its determination to be different reads as an attempt to be edgy, rather than as successful worldbuilding. Also, I'm left feeling that the story should properly start where the book actually ends: (view spoiler)[with the rallying point dead, his two women - oh no! - the surviving leaders, and the possible heirs babies. With a country in shambles and no clear leader available. Instead, Steles of the Sky wanders around the country, describing it in very great, irrelevant detail. With a focus on characters' journeys that have no bearing on the final pages. With an obsession with nursing women that would be very disturbing if the author were a man, and might be very disturbing anyway - another way in which this book fails to be as different as it imagines itself to be. (hide spoiler)]There's something to be said for Chekhov's gun: it suggests that every plot element be necessary to the story. Here, if you've read the first two books, you can skip to page 395 or so. You won't be missing anything. Or you can avoid the book completely. I don't think you'd be missing anything making that decision, either.

  • Leah Petersen
    2019-05-20 23:52

    What struck me over and over again through this trilogy is what a brilliant and original worldbuilder Bear is. In this world, the sky is different depending on what nation you're in, and it changes if the land is conquered. The whole sky. The sun, the stars, the moons. One sky has a moon for each prince of the ruling line. When one dies, there goes his moon. A new one is born? You have a new moon that night. One nation has no night at all. Just the rise of the big sun (Hard-day) and as it sets, the rise of the much smaller sun (Soft-day.) I'm just blown away at the imagination that goes into something like this. Not just because it's interesting, but because, usually, magic and mythology in fantasy tends to be true to physics and astronomy and biology in general, so long as you account for certain things we can't do now, like, well, magic. But with a little bending of the rules, you can see how it works according to our understanding of the universe. This isn't like that. Yet it's internally consistent and logical within itself. It doesn't need our science. It's a reality and truth of its own. Even more fascinating is that beside this complete diversion from astronomy as we know it, magicians operate their magic in a very scientific manner, and study the physical world relentlessly. And it all works together somehow. Elizabeth Bear is the writer I want to be when I grow up.Come to the trilogy for the excellent characters, storyline, the satisfying ending. It has all that. But it does so much more that I was left in awe of her craft as much as the story I'd just experienced.

  • Jared Millet
    2019-05-15 02:54

    Hate to say this, but Bear stumbles a bit in the third volume of her Eternal Sky trilogy. The characters are still compelling and her Asian-inspired cultures are still vividly drawn, but after various fights for survival in the opening 100 pages, the book gets surprisingly dull.How so? There's a scene in the Dino de Laurentiis Flash Gordon (a weird connection, I know, bear with me) in which Flash declares, "Ming's your real enemy. Let's all team up and fight him!" Imagine how boring the rest of the movie would have been if all the other characters had immediately agreed and did as Flash said. That's kind of the problem with Steles of the Sky. All the back-stabbing and infighting stirred up by the villainous Al Seppher seemed to wrap up at the end of Book 2, so that in this volume all the surviving parties start to realize how much they'd been duped and spend most of the book coming together, forming alliances, and making plans on how to beat the bad guy - which he gives them plenty of time to do. When it comes to the final confrontation, the good guys' victory never really feels in doubt.And the horses. My god, if you love horses - magic horses, in particular - this is the series for you. If not, then you might want to get ready to skim over page after page after page after page of endless descriptions of just how awesome magical horses are. I mean, come on already. *sigh*

  • Megan Baxter
    2019-05-19 02:55

    With this, I think I finish the truly astonishing haul of Elizabeth Bear books I picked up at the local library sale last year. (I'm almost done everything I bought, and might actually finish the last couple non-Bear books before this year's sale in October.) That has meant that I've read the three parts of this trilogy closer together than I might otherwise have, and I'm glad, because they're so intricate and densely connected I might have had to struggle to remember what was going on, instead of drifting seamlessly from one into the next. Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • Justine
    2019-04-29 22:42

    This was a real powerhouse finish to the trilogy. What I liked most about these books as a whole was how the characters became more and more complex as the story proceeded. They were never simple. Reexamination of loyalties and personal roles, slightly shifting motivations, changes in direction, all of these wove together to make a highly nuanced story that still maintained a fairly quick pace. The ending was emotional and yet also satisfying, and left me feeling that the time I had spent with these characters was well worth the effort.

  • Ron
    2019-05-17 22:50

    Wizards, dragons and poets—not to mention ghuls, demonlings, blood ghosts and horses. What’s not to like in this rousing conclusion to Elizabeth’s Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy? “Just keep walking.”Quite a bit actually. But for her smashing climax, the rest of the book merits three stars … at best. It suffers a terrible case of sideways: lots of talking, lots of maneuvering, but little development of the story. Fans of Bear, and no one should start reading any series with the last book, will enjoy her writing. Her overuse of “that” becomes intrusive. Lots of Robert Jordan influence; that's not a complement. Too large a cast to keep straight, especially with all the head hopping. The shifts in point of view were well executed but confusing.“From a woman’s strength came we all.”For those who decry the dearth of female heroic characters, Eternal Sky is full of them. In fact, though the central conflict involves two men, all the really interesting and significant characters are female.“Comforting thoughts should be questioned no less stringently than any others for they are more likely to lead us astray, as we wish to believe them.”For an adventure fantasy, Eternal Sky swims upstream on the prevailing heroic empire theme which it seems to start in. Bear’s characters question the standards and structures of their day even as they serve them. Lots of self-reflection and angst.“The stories we believe shape how we act.”A few quibbles: A character suffers a back full of shattered glass, then continues traveling and fighting with no apparent discomfort or diminution of ability. Traveling by rowed long boat on a broad river belittled compared with a multi-week horse-back journey or walking as far? A breech-loading, flintlock rifle? Intrusion of “modern” technology (nineteenth in our world versus the pervasive thirteenth-century technology? Move to the other side of the world, just follow a ghost path? Too convenient.“If you get away with it, it’s no crime.”Elizabeth Bear tells a great tale. I will read more of her work.“We are who we pretend to be, when we stop we’re nothing.”

  • rivka
    2019-05-12 19:52

    A satisfying ending to the series, with a number of the expected twists and turns -- and quite a few I did not expect.This series is one of the most original worlds I have seen in fantasy. I love the idea of each empire having a markedly different sky (REALLY different: different numbers of moons, suns, direction of rotation, etc.) which changes depending on who controls a region. Although the sheer impossibility of it from a scientific perspective makes my head hurt. This world is definitely based on actual Earth history (Mongols, Chinese, Arabs/Muslims of around 1300 C.E.), but uses that merely as a starting point.Definitely recommended!

  • Joseph
    2019-05-09 23:44

    I just ... That is ... I'm dumbstruck at how good this book is (and its predecessors were); the story, the worldbuilding, the prose, most of all the characters. So, stunned into inarticulateness, I'm going to steal directly from the book itself to sum up my feelings:"There is history here to be written," she said. "There are poems such as have never been heard -- in dragon-scale, in stallion's mane, in the actions of God through the hands of men."

  • Bart
    2019-05-12 02:46

    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 restraint, and her willingness to take a chance. In the hands of a lesser writer, the riffle would have turned entire chapters of the book into something steampunkish, out of the desperate need to explicitely blend genres.Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig

  • Rob
    2019-05-20 02:46

    ...I don't think I can praise Steles of the Sky, or the rest of the trilogy for that matter, highly enough. Bear set out to create a work of epic fantasy that would challenge the genre's clichés and treatment of gender related issues and ended up setting a new standard. Bear retains a lot of elements that make the genre attractive to readers while showing us a whole new way of dealing with them. It's one of the most successful attempts to break with the restrictions Tolkien's success imposed on the genre. I once said that if I'd found the perfect book I'd stop reading. Bear comes dangerously close to making me break that promise.Full Random Comments review

  • Stella
    2019-04-24 21:40

    I really like the way this trilogy ended, how all of the characters were very brave in their own ways, and especially because the "main" character died. He never did fulfill any of his blood vows personally, except the one he managed with the help of Hrahima and the wizards, after his own death. What is left afterwards is the important work, the diplomacy and the raising of children.I try to read books in which women are as important and competent as men. Luckily they have become more and more common in Fantasy and this trilogy is great that way, full of women rising to their own separate challenges in battle or in private. I'm looking forward to reading Bear's new book set in this world (if another part of it), The Stone In the Skull later this Fall.

  • Tudor Ciocarlie
    2019-05-13 22:50

    Glorious ending of the Eternal Sky trilogy. This series is without a doubt the best written epic-fantasy series of all time.

  • Ian Mond
    2019-04-23 02:48

    If you’re like me and you believe that award shortlists are meant to be read and not admired then the nomination of a multi-series novel, that you haven’t been keeping up with, creates a quandary. Do you ignore the book’s existence on the ballot? Do you try to find time to read the other novels in the series? Or do you simply take the view that nominated works must stand alone, that in terms of character and plot and theme it must engage the newbie reader as much as it does the person who’s already invested in the series.I decided long ago to adopt option three, as a result I found myself reading Steles of the Sky the concluding volume in the Eternal Sky trilogy.While this is the third book, to Elizabeth Bear’s credit I never felt lost in terms of the narrative. I quickly picked up who were the good guys and who the villains. I also easily came to terms with the world building and the mix of cultures – all non-white and based on Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American mythologies. But what I really appreciated was how Bear pulls this off without the need to info-dump or have character explains plot points they should already know.However, as a concluding volume in a trilogy I did expect the book to have a sense of momentum and pacing as it wraps up and deals with the threads left by the previous novels. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The first half of the novel involves lots and lots and lots of walking (especially trudging through snow) – generally from disasters or events set up by the previous volumes. Even when Re Temur and his posse of like-minded individuals find a set of magic portals that allows them to arrive at their final destination quicker than might have been the case, the narrative still feels as stuck in the snowdrifts as some of the other characters.The villain of the piece, al-Sepehr, does very little. I got the impression he was an arrogant piece of work who, because he had control of a Djinn, felt like his victory was inevitable. But this means that other than the extreme climate and the odd glass demon, our heroes never seem to face a genuine threat. In fact they have plenty of time to get their act together as they organise an army to fight the forces of al-Sepehr and those who have allied with him.The novel’s many disparate strands lead to a final battle between good and evil. This happens, though in the last thirty or so pages, and is dealt with so quickly, so abruptly, that it feels inconsequential. I’d be willing to accept that this war between al-Sepehr and Re Temur is not the point of the series – that it’s about the friendships and relationships between different cultures that are formed as a consequence of the villain and his villainy. But as a climax to a trilogy, I expected something a little more… well… climactic.The novel also involves far too many characters, an issue that’s not unique to the Eternal Sky – I’m looking at you George – but is still annoying nonetheless. The Steles of the Sky has at least five or six viewpoints to contend with, and while this does give us a variety of voices and opinion, it does means that characters disappear for large chunks of the novel. As a consequence I struggled to engage with anyone, including Re Temur who has the lion share of the narrative.Having said all that the prose is knock your socks off beautiful. I quote some of it above. But more than the pretty words, it was never a chore to finish the book. In spite of the slow pacing and characters I didn’t care for, Elizabeth Bear’s ability to tell a story shone through. I didn’t turn the pages out of an obligation to reach the end of the book. I did it because I still wanted to know what happened next.Going by the interwebs, those who have read all three books really enjoyed the series and its unique take on epic fantasy eschewing the traditional medieval setting for something a lot more complex and interesting. It didn’t work for me partly because Steles of the Sky doesn’t stand alone as a novel but mostly because there are too many characters, the plot strands are diffuse and the climax is little more than a speckle of snow rather than a raging blizzard.

  • Coolcurry
    2019-05-12 02:48

    Steles of the Sky is the final book in the epic fantasy series the Eternal Sky, which starts with Range of Ghosts. Temur is raising his banner as Great Khan and gathering allies against the plot to raise an ancient evil.Thankfully, the synopsis for Steles of the Sky differed from the formula set out by the last two books. On the other hand, I don’t think my problems with the last book were just mid series slump. I think this entire trilogy suffers from poor plotting and pacing.While the end of the book did bring everyone together for the expected Final Battle, the beginning of the book maintained the pattern of people traveling from point A to point B that I’d complained about with the previous books. The plot feels very standard and completely unoriginal, and the only villain to be at all interesting is Saadat. There’s many elements I liked about the trilogy, but with such a weak plot line and poor pacing, it really suffered.Yet there are many elements I enjoyed. The foremost is the sheer beauty of the Eternal Skies. Bear has imbued her setting with grandeur, awe, and wonder all brought to life by her magnificent prose. I love how she takes her inspiration from Asian cultures instead of European and how the magic fits so deeply into the landscape, with the skies that change with the fate of empires.The other high point of the series is the inclusion of multiple important women, of many different sorts. I know both Hrahima, the tigeress warrior, and Samarkar, a wizard of the Citadel, will stick with me for a long time. The trilogy overall had a number of mother queens ruling as regents, and I wonder if it’s either inspired by history or has some deeper thematic meaning. I’d probably need to reread to say more on the subject, but what I noticed this first time around was interesting.I didn’t find the ending completely satisfying, as it seemed like there were a lot of unresolved plot threads (what was up with that Lady Dio subplot for instance?). I was more emotional about it than I expected, which led me to realize just how much I’d gotten attached to some of the characters.Other than its Central Asian setting, the Eternal Skies trilogy is very much a traditional, non-grimdark epic fantasy story. It’s not a trilogy I would reread or strongly recommend, but if nothing else I don’t regret reading it because of the beautiful world building and prominent female characters.Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.

  • Melliane
    2019-05-06 01:51

    Mon avis en FrançaisMy English reviewThis is another series that I have not read, and I begin once again with the third book in the trilogy that closes the series. It is always a difficult to do that, I know, especially in fantasy, but I am done for now with novels out of order.Unlike the last novel I read where I was really lost, I found that the author made us understand more easily the context of the story. The world is also very rich and we find a lot of characters at once. It is true that initially I had a little trouble placing all the characters. But this is mainly due to the fact that they all have some very original names and it was difficult to remember everyone when we have many different characters. Of course, as often in fantasy, we have many POVs over the chapters and it was interesting to understand the role of the characters and what each was trying to achieve.Re Temur is trying to regain the throne he had to leave and he is going to Dragon Lake to raise his flag and regain his place. Accompanied by his friends, he will have to pass through many obstacles and confront people and creatures he wouldn’t have thought to cross. Oh yes because we have a jinn who plots against his master, but also a speaking dragon who may well hold the key to their future, and some shaman-remembered. Conspiracies and betrayals are law here, and everyone is trying to take advantage of the situation.I had a good time with this novel, and although it is true that I was a bit lost at first, we understand little by little what is happening and what the characters want to do. It is a rich world that the author presents here, all populated by wizards, shamans and extraordinary creatures. Each category has its own rules and it was interesting to discover more about them. I confess that I am curious to discover how the characters ended up like that and I think that I should read the first books one day. By cons I do not advise you to start with this one as I did, you’ll miss too many things.

  • Tim Martin
    2019-04-26 21:07

    I enjoyed this ending to one of the best fantasy trilogies in recent memory. I thought some of the pacing in the first two thirds of this book at times could have been a little more brisk but the end more than made up for that. I continued to appreciate the excellent world building on the part of author Elizabeth Bear and really grew to love the main characters. The ending, perhaps because of the somewhat slower pace of the rest of the book, felt maybe a little rushed but A LOT happened, with all major plot threads tied up in an epic battle. I would say to those that felt that pacing was slow that it read like some fantasy Chinese films are viewed; you get carried away by the vivid, poetic imagery. At times it read like a good description of Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings. It was definitely a world that one could sit on grassy hill and just get lost in, gazing away, at dream-like skies and flowing waterfalls and waving seas of grass. A world one could just stare at in wonder....Not that that would be particularly safe, as this world is full of dangers. I have read some of the reviews, which said that the ending was predictable. I certainly did not find that to be the case and was very pleased with it. If Elizabeth Bear would ever revisit this world I would be glad to make the journey.

  • Liz
    2019-05-02 02:42

    Oh man. ALL THE FEELS!No, seriously, all of them! Sometimes I forget what it's like to get so caught up in a novel that I can't stop reading or go to sleep. It happens far more rarely than it used to. But when it does...This was one of those series that just stays with you. It's everything that little epic fantasy ideas dream of growing up to be.Sometimes I think that epic fantasy could survive entirely on Elizabeth Bear and N. K. Jemisin and, while there might not be as much literature, what is there would be so fantastic that no one would complain.Yeah, I enjoyed this. The writing was exquisite, the thought that went into developing a universe that is both grounded in the large swath of the Asian continent and also deeply fantastic clearly paid off. And the people and their cultures - Bear does some things that few authors properly achieve; she can create villains that are sympathetic without redeeming them, she can portray a multitude of religious practices without ever veering into the trite or the offensive. And she can make her characters feel more than real. I was sad when it ended, even though the story was done and done well. And that, in some ways, is the highest praise I can give.

  • Brian Palmer
    2019-04-23 20:45

    The first book of the series took a while to get into, but it did a nice job of weaving together a history of peoples, united by the beautiful visions of the skies (an image that has stuck with me separated from the story for years). This book took ... significantly longer to get into, because it had a lot of characters to pick up their stories and try to bring them together. It was only really the end that it all started cohering; it did involve a Big Battle but nothing like the traditional epic fantasy battle where the main character and main evil character exchange thunderbolts in the sky. (There *is* aerial combat, but it was very different). I suspect this series would work much better read all together, where the momentum of one finishing would help power through the beginnings of the next.

  • Fantasy Literature
    2019-05-13 02:41

    First, a confession: I’ve mostly given up on epic fantasy as a genre. I keep circling back to it because I remember the sense of soaring escape it gave me in eighth grade, but the story about intrepid heroes banding together to save the world from evil has long since lost its shine for me. The series I’ve slogged through recently — including the Hugo-nominated one, which rhymes with Peel of Lime — would only be useful to me if I needed to prop open a door on a breezy day, or start a fire in some kind of post-apocalyptic situation.But then sometimes I stumble over an epic fantasy series that reminds me why I keep returning to it: because there’s something buried deep in the marrow of fantasy, well-hidden by pounds... Read More:

  • Lynnet
    2019-04-27 23:00

    I felt like I could see the author's fingerprints far too frequently throughout this book. Each character's backstory was neatly explained and wrapped up. The lack of loose ends felt especially strange because this book really only concluded Temur's story, there were many other characters who seemed to be halfway through their own stories, but those stories were abandoned. Basically, if you read this series with the assumption that Temur was the main character, I can see why this would be a very satisfying conclusion. It's clear that the author intended it to be read that way. But I read it as an ensemble drama, and to have that ensemble's future ignored because Temur's story was complete felt very wrong to me.

  • Kara
    2019-05-13 03:48

    The whole book - the whole trilogy - builds up to the battle in the last chapter and just about every character takes a side and battles it out (except the Empress, who is busy rebuilding her palace after it got a bit blown up by revolutionaries).Its an awesome battle sequence as everyone just let loose everything they've had to bottle up throughout.Bear is somewhere halfway between Tolkien and Martin - a lot of high fantasy and optimism balanced by the grittiness and grimness of reality.

  • Matt Fimbulwinter
    2019-04-30 00:51

    Yes, one can still write cool, compelling epic fantasy. Book three of the Eternal Sky trilogy, Bear wraps things up nicely. Because it's Bear, the dialogue is sharp and warm, and the characters are deep and compelling. Bear uses a somewhat softer touch in this series than in some of her other works; while there's pain and loss, it doesn't hit as brutally as in, say, her Promethean Age books.Also, I really want a Lord Shuffle stuffie.

  • Brittany
    2019-05-08 03:03

    A satisfying finale to the trilogy. Such a refreshing trio of books. Quick! Name the last book you remember where several of the woman in it were raising young children (nursing) and it was treated as No Big Deal. It's OK; I'll wait. If you could think of something, let me know, because I certainly couldn't. Very engaging, and I can't wait to read them again.

  • Wm
    2019-05-06 02:42

    Does everything we needed it to do. And then some.

  • Cindy
    2019-05-18 22:43

    Good conclusion to this trilogy (and it was a trilogy that stayed with only 3 books - hooray!)

  • Kam
    2019-05-21 20:58

    Most readers, I think, like to guess at the ending of a novel. I personally think it’s part of the fun of reading, actually: you know the author is going to take one someplace interesting - or at least, one hopes that’s what the author is going to do - but whether it’s the sort of interesting one expects, or the sort of interesting one does not expect, is the question. Some readers like having a story end precisely the way they want it to, but there are others who don’t mind getting an ending they didn’t expect - and that’s the kind of reader I am.But then again, when I try to guess the ending of a novel, I’m not concerned about whether it will be a happy ending, or sad ending: I’m more concerned with whether or not the ending rings true to what came before it. After all, a story can end happily but not be consistent with everything that came before it - it rings false, feels dissonant when compared to the rest of the story. Any ending, happy or sad, needs to be justified, because there’s nothing more disappointing than an unjustified ending, happy or not.In the case of novel series, this means that the last book is especially important. When one has more than one book in which to tell a story, this can leave a great many loose ends behind, most of which need to be tied up as tidily as possible - though not all, since it’s more than acceptable to leave a few threads hanging loose. But this also means that the reader has been waiting patiently for however many books it took to get to this last one, and this means that the ending has to be equally spectacular - or, at the very least, one that rings true to everything that came before it.That is the case with Steles of the Sky the last book in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky Trilogy. Set immediately after the events of the second book, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky follows not only Re Temur and his companions, but also other characters who were further developed in Shattered Pillars, like Tsering, Wizard of Tsarepheth, and Saadet, Nameless assassin and now widow of Temur’s chief rival for the Khaganate - all thanks to the planning and manipulation of Saadet’s adoptive father, al-Sepehr. It also tells the story of Yangchen, Empress of Rasa, and introduces the Uthman poetess Ümmühan, who turns out to be far, far more than what she appears to be. All of these characters will become crucial in the story told in this novel: that of al-Sepehr’s attempt to conquer the world, and the rest of the world’s attempt to stop him.If that sounds a little too straightforward, it is, I suppose. After all, that’s what the novel is about, at its most basic: al-Sepehr has been planning this since the first book, and put his plan into motion at the end of the second, so naturally the third book would be about how that plan worked out. But any reader of epic fantasy knows that that’s how last books in series go, so that’s not really the point. The point is following the characters the reader has come to love (and hate), and find out how they deal with the coming end - and what happens to them when they meet it. And in this case, Bear most certainly delivers, with well-loved characters becoming even more loved, and some perhaps-hated characters developing and growing into characters the reader might love, or at the very least respect. At this late stage of the story it can be hard to accomplish that, but Bear manages to do so, as shown by the characters Yangchen and Ümmühan.The best example of the above is Yangchen. (view spoiler)[In the second book, I absolutely despised her, writing her off as a power-hungry, Cersei-esque character who would do anything to put her son on the throne, including collaborating with al-Sepehr. It was al-Sepehr, after all, who provided her with the potions needed to ensure that her sister-wives only gave birth to daughters, while she herself gave birth to the one son and heir of the Rasan throne. This meant, of course, she would become the premier wife, and therefore Empress, of the entire empire - her goal since marrying the heir to the Rasan throne and his brother. But apart from that, it’s revealed in Shattered Pillars that she was the reason behind the demon-plague - the same plague that killed Temur’s mother and brought Tsarepheth to its knees. Because of that, Yangchen should have had my disfavour for the rest of the series.But towards the end of Shattered Pillars, she comes face to face with the consequences of her actions, and in Steles of the Sky she not only pays for her deeds, but also learns from them, growing into a character I could not only respect, but actually like. Her side of the storyline - involving leading refugees from Tsarepheth to the safer Rasan heartland - is an amazing story of her growth from petty princess to a true leader of her people. It was a great pleasure reading all about it, particularly when she thinks about what her father taught her, realises that he was so very, very wrong, and vowing that her son - who will be Emperor of Rasa once he is old enough - will never grow up to be the dictator she herself had the potential to be. I’m really, truly glad that Bear did this for Yangchen. It’s not often that characters who do evil are portrayed as regretting their deeds and then doing their best to repent for them, and reading about Yangchen living through those regrets, and becoming stronger for them, was something I really enjoyed. I wish I could have seen more of her, but there were plenty of other characters that needed attention, and I think it was enough to know that she had actually changed for the better. (hide spoiler)]As for Ümmühan, her story is equally fascinating, though different from Yangchen’s. (view spoiler)[The reader’s first glimpse of her in Shattered Pillars is fairly brief, introducing her as a slave and poetess in the service of the Uthman Caliph, but in Steles of the Sky Ümmühan gets star treatment. Her position as both a slave and the finest poet of her time puts her in an interesting position: she has power, in her own way, but not, either. Her art makes her exalted (particularly in a culture that values words), but her position in the social hierarchy means she’s overlooked quite often, as well. But Ümmühan knows the value of her place in the world, and the value of her skills, and she uses them to great effect for her own, personal cause. There is a clear and strong feminist thread that runs through the course of the series, and Bear uses different female characters to get the point across. In Steles of the Sky that role falls to Ümmühan, and with her poet’s skill and rapier wit she makes some very fine, incisive remarks about men and the fragility of their machismo. For instance:“Men were such fragile creatures, so easy to manipulate. So much less than human.It was not their fault. They could not help it that she had been made in the Scholar-God’s image, when they were poor copies at best. Deep down, Ümmühan suspected that this was why they felt the need to keep women collared like cats, in cages like birds. It was a pathetic attempt to own a soul more numinous than theirs, an urge to get closer to the divine by controlling those who were naturally more attuned to it.”Or this (the Hasitani being a group of female scholars who travelled all around the caliphate, offering their services as scribes and doctors, to name but a few of their skills):“Men, in her experience, were eager to believe that women were silly, incompetent, small-minded. Even if they were Hasitani, poets, or others who glorified heaven through their work—as if the Scholar-God would make fools in her own image.”It is interesting that her words should ring true even in the context of the real world, but that is one of the marvels of fiction: a writer can build an entire fantasy world, but have their characters still say and do things that the reader will recognise in the context of their own, lived experience. Though Ümmühan is fictional, and the world she lives in is fictional, the words Bear puts into her mouth still ring with truth outside of the context in which she says them. (hide spoiler)]Though I personally think Yangchen and Ümmühan were the standouts of this novel, other characters develop by leaps and bounds as well, becoming remarkable in their own way. I speak, in particular, of Tsering, the wizard without magic, Samarkar’s mentor at the start of Range of Ghosts, (view spoiler)[and one of the most important characters in the Tsarepheth plotline in Shattered Pillars. After finishing Shattered Pillars I knew she was going to become important in Steles of the Sky - though in a way I did not expect. Still, it made me happy to read about her becoming important, especially because Tsering is a wizard with no magic. One always expects the people like Samarkar to become great, and in Samarkar’s case it’s a greatness she has earned, in her own way. But Tsering became great not because she had magic in her, but because she had none - and how that makes her great is made clear towards the end of the novel, when her actions actually bring the war to a close. (hide spoiler)]I’m also particularly happy with the way Temur, Edene, and Samarkar got together. (view spoiler)[It would have been so ridiculously easy for this to become a trite and messy love triangle, but I should have known better than to worry, because Bear obviously knows her stuff and these three got on just fine, with Edene viewing Samarkar as a sister-wife and as a friend and ally precisely because they both love Temur. And it’s always been clear throughout the course of the novels that Samarkar is not jealous of Temur’s feelings for Edene - after all, never once has she tried to stop him from looking for her, because she knows how important Edene is to him, and knows that Temur’s heart is big enough for the both of them. (hide spoiler)]But now that I speak of Edene, I would just like to say this: (view spoiler)[there have been many Ringbearers in fantasy fiction, but I think Edene could eat them all for breakfast, given her fortitude against the seductive whispers of the Green Ring of Erem. I apologise to Frodo, for his burden was a great one, but I do personally think that Edene could have taken the One Ring straight off to Mordor and dropped it into the fire, all the while giving Sauron all the sass she has in her possession - all this while wearing the One Ring. (hide spoiler)]As for the plot, it feels a bit scattered, jumping from character to character as Bear tries to tell the story from as many angles as possible. They do come together, eventually, but for a while it feels a bit disorienting, as the reader goes from Reason to Tsarepeth to the Caliphate to Kyiv, and back again. There’s some metaphorical whiplash initially, but Bear does manage to keep a good handle on things and the whiplash is pretty minimal. Also, as I said, the disparate strands of the story do come together towards the end, so the disorientation doesn’t last for very long. Plus, some of the smaller side-stories can be remarkably fun: (view spoiler)[the one concerning Ato Tesefahun and Iskandar, once-Uthman Caliph, is hilarious, as they act like a pair of grouchy, snarky old men on a long road trip with someone they can only barely stand to be around. Brother Hsiung’s story is also very good, but more because it is a story of leaving home, and coming back - or not, as the case may be. I will admit that I felt teary-eyed while reading that part, a feeling that was matched only later, at the end of the novel. (hide spoiler)]Overall, Steles of the Sky is a satisfying conclusion to the Eternal Sky Trilogy - an ending that has not one single note of falseness to it. To be sure, not all threads are completely wrapped up, but the most important ones are, and I’m glad it ended the way it did. I was expecting certain characters to die, and certain other characters to live, but no death was wasted at any point in this series (view spoiler)[(except maybe Shahruz, who might have been better off completely dead, if only so Saadet and the reader don’t have to put up with his petulance) (hide spoiler)]. Oh, and best all: (view spoiler)[none of the animals died! (hide spoiler)]

  • Jerry
    2019-04-24 21:42

    WOW. I have been meaning to read this series ever since I read the review by Kristen of Fantasy Book Café, so a big thank you to her even though she didn’t recommend them personally I had the misconception that these books would be another run of the mill fantasy…boy was I wrong. This is my first time actually writing about a book that I read, but I thought I would give it chance since it is the start of a New Year and all. Please forgive my review as I am fairly new at this. I couldn’t find anything that I disliked about this series. Book one, was simply amazing. Book two was a little slow at times but only because it was setting up events for book three. Book three just brought everything together and made me fall in love with Elizabeth Bear. The things I liked about these books:The world building – Elizabeth Bear created a world that is beautiful and mysterious, each region in her books have their own moon, suns, and history as well as unique theologies. The landscapes described are all very beautiful and deadly. It’s a land that is inhabited by blood ghosts, wizards, female kings, tigers that talk and walk like humans, warrior monks (which reminded me of Shaolin monk) and Dragons. I really enjoyed reading about the followers of the Scholar god (Hasitani), how they use the veneration of books and knowledge to be closer to their god and how libraries are thought of as holy sanctuaries. The fact that the Eternal Sky Trilogy has inspiration from Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian, Turkey and Iranian cultures made them that much more enjoyable. The characters – Each have their own distinct personalities and pasts that sometimes haunt them. It has an young woman who wants to help her people after putting them in harm’s way to become an empress, a young man who is hunted by assassins and trying to find the woman who he promised to marry, not to mention the fact that he is also trying to reconsolidate his grandfather’s empire which is breaking apart bit by bit. A female wizard who must sacrifice greatly in order to obtain her power. Elizabeth Bear really makes you want to delve deep into each characters past, and learn more about their flaws and what motivates them to make the decisions that they make, their desires and their complexities. From complicated relationships with gods, sacred horses, curses, loyalty and treachery, plague and war, love and death, Elizabeth Bear has created a masterpiece which I truly enjoyed visiting. I will definitely read more of her books.