Mount Readmore Book Review, 2018 36/200
Shattered Pillars By Elizabeth Bear
Finished on 3/7/2018
The Shattered Pillars is the second book of Bear’s The Eternal Skytrilogy and the sequel to Range of Ghosts. Set in a world drawn from our own great Asian Steppes, this saga of magic, politics and war sets Re-Temur, the exiled heir to the great Khagan and his friend Sarmarkar, a Wizard of Tsarepheth, against dark forces determined to conquer all the great Empires along the Celedon Road.
Elizabeth Bear is an astonishing writer, whose prose draws you into strange and wonderful worlds, and makes you care deeply about the people and the stories she tells. The world of The Eternal Sky is broadly and deeply created—her award-nominated novella, “Bone and Jewel Creatures” is also set there.
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Asian Inspired Fantasy
Deus-Ex-Machina Horse Strikes Again!
This is a good book. I read the first book in the ‘Eternal Sky’ series some five years ago, back when it was first released, but waited until now to read the second book. That was a mistake. I should have read the first book again, or read this closer to reading that because I had some difficulty jumping back into this story.
Shattered Pillars doesn’t suffer from the ‘middle book slump,’ which so commonly plagues trilogies. In a lot of ways Shattered Pillars is better than the first book: better action, better plotting. But also this book also innovates significantly from the formula of the first. Namely this book spans the entire Celedon Road (think Silk Road for this setting, which connects all the civilizations from Fantasy Russia to Fantasy China), where the previous book was focused to just a travelling band of characters. Indeed I liked the new plots introduced by the author more than the old travelling band, who we revisit.
My biggest qualm with this book is the overabundance of POV characters. Re-Temur, Samarkar-la, Hong-la, Tsering-la, the twins, al-Sepehr, the Illiterate, Cat Lady, the Empress and Edene are all POV characters. This is bad because the narrative was constantly flickering around from POV to POV, staying just long enough to reach a cliffhanger before swapping back to another character for long enough to reach a new cliffhanger before swapping to yet another character. When you have three or more cliffhangers going on simultaneously, and no payoff for 30+ pages, I’m going to get fed up.
My second biggest qualm is that there is very little character development for some of the characters. All the wizards (Samarkar-la, Hong-la, Tsering-la and al-Sepehr) remain static for most of the book emotionally. By and large everyone else has a small character arc, but even then they weren’t particularly memorable character arcs besides the twins who had an interesting arc. Related to that that the book just kinda… ended. This is clearly the middle book in the series, because there wasn’t a climax so much as a petering out of the plot
Net total, read ‘Range of Ghosts’ to see if you like the series. If you like that, chances are you’ll like this. I was hoping for more of a Fiscal fantasy bent to this with the whole Silk Road arc-theme of this book, but sadly it was not the case.