Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Eternal Sky Book Three
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(Spoilers for Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars are below).
The Eternal Sky Trilogy is brought to an acceptable conclusion, but that being said it’s definitely the weakest link in this series, and I certainly was hoping for more. There’s plenty of long awaited character confrontations, characters using their wits to pull off some trickery, and a huge epic battle with flying horses and explosive magic to top everything off – most of which is entertaining. There are still some issues, but nevertheless it’s the way the story is written that kept me compelled to the end, rather than the events in the plot.
Temur and Samarkar are heading to the dragon lake in ancient Erem. There they will raise his banner calling all to them who wish to oppose Al Sepher, who’s already begun his invasion of the lands under the Eternal Sky.
What works in Steles of the Sky, is what’s worked in the previous installments of the book: great worldbuilding and a well written story. Bear makes particularly good use of horses galloping through the sky, which is something she introduced at the end of the last book. It certainly makes a visual impression when she ups that anti with a cavalry charge.
The major Tolkienesque fantasy tropes explored in this book are the final the showdown between good and evil and the large scale fantasy battle showdown … aka the good army fighting against the overwhelming numbers of a powerful evil army. While this concludes in a manner that’s predictable, there are still moments that are different … like the horses mentioned above. Edene’s plot was also less predictable, and I didn’t really see her plot ending the way it did.
Pacing has been an issue throughout the series. There are huge time jumps which are used to move the story along. Unfortunately, these jumps in time rush moments along that readers have spent a long time waiting to see get resolved. Samarkar and Edene’s confrontation is disappointingly underwhelming, and is resolved with a choice …. scent? These two characters’ conflict of interest isn’t even really addressed. It’s like they continue on with the plot whilst minimally acknowledging each other.
The same thing occurs in the final battle, suddenly it’s here, and while there are some cool visuals, a lot of it ends up feeling … meh. Temur’s role in particular here is minimal, which is disappointing since this main conflict of this series has really centered around him getting revenge. Bear chooses to bring Samarkar to the forefront in the final battle, and it kind of feels pointless, since she’s been more about finding her identity since she’s no longer a political figure. Speaking of pointless, the Dowager Empress story, what was the point of that? Yangchen eats up a lot of page time, and factors very little into the story’s conclusion. She’s disproportionately important, and this is probably one of the most disappointing parts of the book. The other most disappointing part is the lack of profound emotional moments. Bear proved in the last couple of books that she has the writing ability to make these moments happen – but again to beat a dead horse – the moments where they should come, come out of nowhere, and it’s not the good kind of out of nowhere either. It’s like “oh” this character’s dead now, or “oh” I need to wrap this thread up quickly.
Plot on the whole is almost non existent. The Dowager leads her people away to safety and Temur calls people to his banner until a final battle to resolve everything can occur. That’s all that happens, and it’s not too exciting either. This book relies on almost everything that came before it, and quite frankly that really isn’t enough to make this a really good story. While I enjoyed the writing, I expected a lot more out of the plot. Granted Eternal Sky’s meant to incorporate an aura of myth, which it successfully does, that doesn’t mean very little to nothing can happen either. This is recommended but with some serious reservations.