‘Steles of the Sky’ by Elizabeth Bear

Mount Readmore Book Review 2018, 147/200

Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky, #3)

Audiobook Edition

Finished on 10/15/2018

Goodreads

Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Asian Fantasy, Kickass female protagonist, The Eternal Sky Trilogy, Political Fantasy

A Stellar Conclusion to an Awesome series

Spoiler-ific review

This review is going to be for this book specifically, as well as the series overall.

This series is one of my favorite Epic Fantasy, ‘Good vs Evil’ Fantasy trilogies.  This review will be my attempt to show you why I hold it in high regard.

The Eternal Sky trilogy is a pan-Asian fantasy, taking place everywhere from Fantasy-Mongolia and Fantasy-China in the east, and going all the way to Fantasy-Istanbul and Fantasy-Kiev in the west. Consequently this series is EPIC, featuring a half dozen drastically distinct cultures and religions. The books’ settings are truly unique, featuring everything from cursed rings to dragons to literal plagues of demons.

The series’ plot overall was very strong. It is a classic Arthurian/MacBethian ‘must reclaim the throne from evil uncle,’ but set in ancient Fantasy-Mongolia (this doesn’t take place on Earth, but a Fantasy world inspired by Golden Horde Era Asia). The protagonist Temur must recruit a band of (entirely female) companions in his quest to overthrow the man who stole his rightful throne.

The story features blood ghosts, transcendental butterfly souls, crystal plague demons which parasitically grow inside people’s lungs, sacred horse herds, and intersexed shaman.

Related, I loved how the civilizations depicted here impacted the literal sky. In the lands of the khan the night sky contains hundreds of moons. In the Song (aka Fantasy-Chinese) lands, there is not one but instead two suns and there is no night. In the Utman Caliphate, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. In the eldritch lands of Reason, the sun is so hot literally everything dies which it’s rays touch. When one civilization takes over an area the sky literally changes overnight.

The books’ characters are the best aspect of the book. It features a TON of deep female characters, both good and evil. Characters, such as the Empress of Rasa and the female Nameless Twin, will be sticking with me for a while. Most of the women are in their teens/twenties and are trying to find their own freedom/place in the world. However Hrahima is a middle-aged (tiger)woman who is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, so I can say that the author wrote a diverse set of viewpoints in this story age-wise.

The series’ pacing was also very strong. I can’t think of any points where I was bored throughout the entire series.

Finally, all of the books are good. There was no middle-book slump (indeed SHATTERED PILLARS is my favorite of the series), so the series itself sustains it’s high quality throughout.

Now for constructive criticism.

There were too many POV characters. This final book had Temur, Al Sepehr, Umalhan, Hrahima, Tsering-La, the Empress, Hong-La, Samarkar-La, Edene, the twins and probably a half dozen more I’ve forgotten. The book is *only* 432 pages long, so each of the characters only get a couple pages a piece. I liked the characters, so I’m disappointed that I got to spend so little time with each of them. More, constantly switching back and forth leads to a lot of cliffhangers as each plot-arc is abruptly interrupted.

Next, the male characters. I don’t think the male POVs were up to the standards set by the female characters. Temur didn’t seem to have very much agency, and the only other main male POV character was the main villain Al Sepehr who just kinda turned into Sauron/Voldemort towards the end (which I found disappointing). The many female characters had more interesting arcs throughout.

These books contain some anachronisms. The author uses some modern turns of phrases as well as vocabulary which is out of place in this non-Earth setting- such as the word ‘Baroque’ or ‘arabesque.’ They don’t appear often, but when they do it took me out of the story a little.

My biggest criticism is that there was almost no denumot after the climax of the final book. I just invested days into reading this three book series; I want a couple after-battle chapters where I learn about the fallout of the characters’ victory and get some time to say goodbye to this beautiful world. Instead the good guys beat the bad guy in the final chapter, and then the book and series ends.

Net total I Highly Recommend this series for people who want to read a quality Epic Fantasy, especially with an Asian-style setting. I Highly Recommend this for anyone seeking a Fantasy story featuring female protagonists. Finally, I also Recommend this to even people who don’t generally like Epic Fantasy stories. This is an all around excellent story which I can Highly Recommend to just about anyone. This series is one of the best full series I have read.

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