Wrapping up Bear’s complex and beautifully rendered historical-fantasy trilogy (Shattered Pillars, 2013, etc.).
Necromancer and blood-sorcerer al-Sepehr, head of the Nameless assassin cult, arranged to have his daughter Saadet impregnated by Qori Buqa, Khagan of the nomad horse-warrior Empire, whom he then murdered. Re Temur, Qori Buqa’s nephew and the true heir to the Khaganate, decides to raise his banner at Dragon Lake, site of the Khagan’s vast abandoned palace—but how to reach it? Perhaps his companions, the wizard Samarkar, Hrahima, a huge human-tiger Cho-tse warrior, and the silent monk, Brother Hsiung, can find a way through the magic doorways created by the extinct Erem Empire. But Erem magic is deadly poisonous—Brother Hsiung is already half-blind from attempting to study it. Edene, Temur’s woman, escaped from al-Sepehr by stealing a green Erem ring, which gave her command of the ghuls, a slave race created by Erem, and control of the toxic Erem magic and all poisonous creatures, but an evil presence within it whispers to her—and she’s carrying Temur’s child. She must also deal with a djinn who, appearing sporadically and unpredictably, sometimes offers help while admitting he’s bound, against his will, to al-Sepehr. Various other groups—wizards, warriors, empresses, survivors of the civilizations broken by al-Sepehr’s treachery—converge on Dragon Lake. These and other narrative strands progress and interact through fully realized characters whose personalities and motivations arise from the dazzlingly detailed cultures and landscapes from which they derive. If there’s a disappointment, it’s the bipedal tiger Hrahima, a vigorous presence whose background and motivations remain largely unexplored. Notably, apart from the hero and his antagonist, all the leading characters are women. It all adds up to an eminently satisfying conclusion.
Considering the trilogy as a whole, the overused term masterpiece justifiably applies.