DOUBLE REVIEW - Shattered Pillars & Steles of the Sky | Elizabeth Bear (Eternal Sky #2 & #3)steemCreated with Sketch.

in #books6 years ago

It's been a good while, so here is my two-in-one review of the last two books of Elizabeth Bear's Eternal Sky trilogy.

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Both of these come from their respective Amazon pages.

Shattered Pillars and Steles of the Sky, books two and three of the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear and published by Tor Books.

I will preface my review like this: for whatever reason, I didn't quite "get" the Eternal Sky. It ostensibly has everything I like in epic fantasy - a diverse cast of fascinating characters in a non-traditional setting. But, somehow, I never cottoned on to it.

I don't know, fully, what it was. You'll see some of my criticisms later on. But I preface the review like this as my way of indicating that you probably should not take my review as a good opinion, because I didn't "get" it. Other people did. Other people have written positive reviews.

It is because of this not getting it that I'm writing a double review. In fact, if I hadn't already reviewed Range of Ghosts - and thus created an obligation to continue - I wouldn't be writing these reviews. I am only writing these out of obligation to the community and because it would feel dishonest for me not to keep that obligation.

With Shattered Pillars we return to the world of the Qersnyk and the Rasans and many others besides, all Asian-inspired, following Temur as he gathers support and allies against the al-Sepehr. Samarkar accompanies him, providing knowledge, as do Hrahima and Brother Hsiung.

Around the half-way point we get a couple new viewpoint characters (something that was done in Range of Ghosts, also, I just didn't recognize it as the half-way point, so I thought it was random), my favorite of which is instantly Yangchen. She is the Empress who betrayed her country, not realizing the damage done.

And her betrayal of her country, I'll not spoil its consequences too much, suffice to say that I enjoyed the medical drama (which has its own viewpoint character) aspects a whole lot more than I thought I would. Her struggle to grapple with what she's done and to help the people of her country (and it does suddenly become her country when her husband dies) is among my favorite storylines from the book.

We read also from the first time the perspective of the Twins - Saadet and Shahruz - whom are one soul split between two bodies. More specifically, we read from Saadet's viewpoint.

Edene's story also takes strange and unique twists and turns and I really can not talk about it here because anything I might mention would spoil it.

Bear's prose remains beautiful and evocative and a pleasure to read. One of my favorite lines from the book is "To say a thing is to make it so," which is something many authors have said - just never so poetically as Bear.

With Steles of the Sky we come to a suitably epic end as the full scope of the al-Sepehr's plan is revealed and Temur at last declares himself - and so allies begin to flock to him. Everything comes to an immense climax, and like the best fantasy books, when all looks best for al-Sepehr is when it all goes horribly wrong.

Favorite aspects include the unusual relationship Samarkar and Edene have, which showcases just how different Qesnyk culture is from our own that there isn't much friction between Temur having romanced both of them. Yangchen only appears in the first half of the book but she's still a favorite. In the second half, we get Brother Hsiung departing the Fellowship (a joke of mine, jtbc).

If you've read my review of Elantris - or heard me when I sometimes talk about it - you'll know that I have a fascination for characters of faith, especially those whom are struggling with it. This is if not wholly than partially because I myself am an atheist and have no otherworldly or supernatural beliefs. (I do, however, occasionally become agnostic.) Religion is something that fascinates me as a student (this is code for interested dilettante) of the human mind and of history.

Naturally, Brother Hsiung (though he never struggles with his belief) became a favorite character of mine. (Actually, more so than Hrahima, though she does have much better lines: "I don't believe in God. She drops by once in a while and we argue about it.")

The book comes to a magnificent end with an absolutely vast battle - and, of course, the ending is bittersweet.

Something I've enjoyed about the whole series is its themes of feminism - that women have their own power, their own choices to make, even in a world many centuries behind our own. There's a roughly equal number of female viewpoints to male across the series, actually, and they are all on average smart, clever, and intelligent.

As, well, a human being, this pleases me. I know many women. My mother is probably the strongest person I know - she's faced a hell of a lot of crap in her life. Getting through that isn't easy. My girlfriend, too. That said, it's not something that pleases me exclusively because of my relationships to other women (god knows we have enough of that), it's something that makes me happy because I am human, and they are human, and on average I think that everybody should be able to be happy, be comfortable, be healthy, and be in control of their own biology.

I wouldn't like book in which women were either unimportant, irrelevant, or stupid. Part of this is because it offends me. (Yes, it offends me - you may laugh if you wish, I know the pallor that those words have taken on.) They are just as human as me. I am just as human as them. Secondly, I just don't believe it. It's not something I think or agree with. Basically, it's not something I want to read or would enjoy reading.

And their viewpoints are just interesting because they're not my own. They're intrinsically different from my own, and that makes them interesting. (It is for that same reason that I so enjoy fantasy set in a non-traditional [i.e. not Western European] landscape.)

Another thing I've loved is Bear's prose, which is just gorgeous. Just absolutely gorgeous. Her sense of pacing is excellent, too, and I admire that she didn't feel the need to extend the series too much out from the scope it needed to be told - only Steles of the Sky cracks the 400-page mark.

What didn't I like?

I never felt as though I knew the characters. Temur, ostensibly the main character, felt like a side character. I never felt I actually began to know him until the end, as I both read of the actions he took as Khagan and putting them beside the actions he took in previous book. (Spoiler: both sets of actions belong with each other.) It was only then that his sense of loyalty, his intelligence, his ability to adapt well began to become clearer to me.

In fact, I had a better grip on every other character other than Temur (Ato Tesefahun excepted).

My favorite characters were Samarkar and Yangchen, undoubtedly, both of them far more interesting people. And, since Samarkar is the one other viewpoint besides Temur's that we've had since the series' start, it's actually she that felt like the main character to me, far more than Temur.

That is my primary failing in not cottoning onto the book. I never felt the characters (Samarkar and Yangchen excepted), never quite understood them or felt as though I knew them. I refer back to my initial preface - it is not my only failing, but it is the biggest of them.

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Ultimately I came away disappointed and dissatisfied. But I refer again to my preface to this review: this is a book I didn't understand. I therefore do not think my judgment has any merit. I needn't like a book to understand it - I understood both Elantris and The Dagger and the Coin, and my opinions on both are quite different from each other.

So where am I going to go from here? Well, I'm not going to talk about my thoughts on the books anymore.

What I am going to do is continue with my "sabbatical" from epic fantasy. (Having written this book, I've at last divested myself from all obligations to Steemit on the subject.) On my bedside table, I have biography, a history of jazz, two collections of short stories (both horror), and a spy thriller. After I finish all of them, I have Clarke, Zelazny, and a bunch of cool books I spotted at the Library to read.

I am going to read more of Elizabeth Bear, because I think she is a good writer and that it is probably my own fault that I didn't grok the series, because it is, at least in theory, everything I might like. I think part of the issue also was that there was such a long break between reading the rest of the series, next to the first, and I was reading other books at the same time.

I am going to read a couple other of her novels and I am going to read her short story collection Shoggoths in Bloom. Afterwards, in a year or two, I'm going to come back and try Eternal Sky again. If my opinion changes when I reread the series, I'll do a re-review.

Coming up! A review of David McCullough's Truman, just as soon as I finish it. Joe Hill's collection 20th Century Ghosts. Andrew Shaffer's Hope Never Dies.

Comments section is always open - in fact, tea or coffee of your choice is proffered, alongside cookie plate. My rule is very simple: be nice. That is the sole rule. (Disagreeing with me is not something I consider rude. Espousing genocide is. Again: be nice. Sole rule. The only thing you should take away from that is exactly the literal definitions of those two words in conjunct.)

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