Steles of the Sky, like its two preceding volumes in Elizabeth Bear’s outstanding Eternal Sky trilogy, proves that room remains in fantasy for fresh ideas, unique world-building, hearty characterization and high-stakes magic and warfare. Bear’s trilogy pushes the genre forward, challenging her contemporaries to write tighter, more inclusive and creative fantasy, while also paying homage to many of the genre’s oldest roots.
Bear fills Steles of the Sky, and the entire trilogy, with a masterfully crafted meld of Asian and Middle Eastern mythology, legend and history with the wholly unique and deeply considered secondary world she has created. Shedding the tried and true landscapes and politics of faux-medieval western Europe, Bear introduces readers to a diverse world and political landscape that avoids feeling like the same ol’, same ol’, despite readers a story that uses many of the genre’s most recognizable tropes—ancient magic; an exiled youth of royal blood; a journey from one side of the map to the other; evil sorcerers; dragons; clashing armies.
Re Temur, legitimate 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 in his army of followers. But Temur’s enemies are not idle; the leader of the Nameless Assassins, who has shattered the peace of the Steppe, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. All the world seems to be on fire, and who knows if even the beloved son of the Eternal Sky can save it?
Steles of the Sky is a terrific conclusion to one of fantasy best and most exciting trilogies of the past decade.
Steles of the Sky is longer than its predecessors, a necessity given the expanding cast of characters and the convergence of several major storylines leading to a satisfying conclusion that closes off the various conflicts that have been building for three volumes. Bear’s characterization remains strong, with Temur, Samarkar and Hrahima continuing to be stand outs among an all around interesting cast. Of particular note is the way that Bear fills the novels with strong interesting men and women equally, many of whom break stereotype and grow tremendously throughout the trilogy.
After two terrific volumes, the conclusion to Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy was under great pressure to finish the series in a satisfying and interesting way. It does so without breaking a sweat. Steles of the Sky is a terrific conclusion to one of fantasy best and most exciting trilogies of the past decade. Bravo, Bear.