Hoping to build on the dazzling triumph of her Eternal Sky fantasy trilogy (Steles of the Sky, 2014, etc.), Bear embarks on a new trilogy set in the same universe.
The opening scene, in which a caravan heaves itself across the icy peaks of the Steles of the Sky, takes the narrative, literally and figuratively, out of familiar territory and into the Lotus Kingdoms, the contentious, broken shards of the once-mighty Alchemical Empire. Here, by night a black sun that gives heat but little light occupies the sky, while days are lit by a brilliant ribbon of stars. Against this spectacular backdrop Bear introduces an array of fine characters. With the caravan are the Gage, a heavy, immensely powerful brass automaton created by a now-dead wizard from the substance of a human being; his friend the Dead Man, a former bodyguard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate; and Nizhvashiti, a Godmade or priest with powerful magic. The Gage bears a message from the Eyeless One, the most powerful sorcerer of the world’s greatest city, to Mrithuri, rajni (princess) and priestess of Sarathai-tia. Mrithuri faces many threats to her realm, chief among them Himadra the Boneless, the bandit lord of a neighboring territory, and her cousin Anuraja, the malevolent old ruler of Sarathai-lae. Her only possible ally is another cousin, Sayeh, the widowed rajni of Ansh-Sahal, with her young son and heir, Drupada. This impending clash of armies, intrigue, and magic—in which, notably, most of the main characters are female—only later emerges as truly existential. It adds up to a panoramic drama that grabs and grips from Page 1 and, despite the more leisurely pacing, never lets go. It certainly is captivatingly different in style and substance than Bear's previous trilogy but no less vivid, absorbing, and thrilling.
In an overcrowded field, another entry that stands head and shoulders above nearly everything else.