Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Anticipate a lot more Elizabeth Bear books to come this year - at the library sale in the fall, there were five or six on the science fiction/fantasy table, and I gave them a good home. (Along with enough other books that after I'd hauled my pile from table to table for a while, a nice little old lady came up to offer me a box. I accepted. I'm not proud.)

It's been a while since I read the first book in this trilogy, but it didn't take me long to slip back into this world, and I think I liked Shattered Pillars even more than Range of Ghosts, and I liked Range of Ghosts quite a lot. The characters have settled in, though, and the struggles they're facing are deadly and affecting.

It's a wide scope, so it's hard to sum up this book in a paragraph or two. We're still in a world where the sky literally changes depending on who is in control. It's shifted, recently.  In this, Temur, one of our main characters, who should be Khagan of the horse tribes of the Steppes, is looking for support from other leaders, and for his kidnapped (and pregnant) love. He's aided in this by the wizard Samarkar, and the two have deepened their relationship. (There's very little monogamy in this world, and I am intrigued by the ways Bear presents it.)

Also still along for the journey are the tiger-warrior woman Hrahima, and the silent monk Hsiung. We find out more about each of them this time around, and it's intriguing. Meanwhile, back in Samarkar's brother's kingdom, a plague spreads. Demons gestate in people's lungs, burning and killing them on the way out.

And in the meantime, Temur's lover hasn't been sitting around being pregnant and waiting for rescue. No, she's been pregnant, stolen a ring and is now Queen of the Ghuls. Oh, and the bad guy twins are now forced to share a body, and there's a lot of interesting and subtle commentary there on how difficult the male twin finds it to be in a female body, with the female twin's thoughts on what he's squeamish about experiencing that he wasn't squeamish about demanding.

There's a lot of state craft in Shattered Pillars, the machinations between nations, leaders, would-be leaders, supporters of the crown, and what people would do to obtain and maintain power. This is something I'm always interested in, and Bear does a really marvellous job of juggling many different systems, all of which come into contact in complex ways. These are not isolated or static cultures.

Everything's set up for some earthshaking changes in the last book, and I can't wait to get to it. This is a marvellously imagined world, with complex characters dealing with complex issues. Everything is on the table, so we can see why the decisions are as difficult as they are. I'll wait a while before I get to the third, but it is coming, and I'm looking forward to it.

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