Book Review: Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear (Four Stars)

Book Review: Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky #3) by Elizabeth Bear

Four Stars out of Five

“You can only influence the moment.”

Wizards, dragons and poets—not to mention ghuls, demonlings, blood ghosts and horses. What’s not to like in this rousing conclusion to Elizabeth’s Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy?

“Just keep walking.”

Quite a bit. But for her smashing climax, the rest of the book merits three stars … at best. It suffers a terrible case of sideways: lots of talking, lots of maneuvering, but little development of the story. Fans of Bear, and no one should start reading any series with the last book, will enjoy her writing. Her overuse of “that” becomes intrusive. Lots of Robert Jordan influence; that’s not a complement.

“From a woman’s strength came we all.”

For those who decry the dearth of female heroic characters, Eternal Sky is full of them. In fact, though the central conflict involves men, all the really interesting and significant characters are female.

“Comforting thoughts should be questioned no less stringently than any others for they are more likely to lead us astray, as we wish to believe them.”

For an adventure fantasy Eternal Sky swims upstream on the prevailing heroic empire model. Bear’s characters question the standards and structures of their day even as they serve them. Lots of self-reflection and angst.

“The stories we believe shape how we act.”

A few quibbles: A character suffers a back full of shattered glass, then continues traveling and fighting with no apparent discomfort or diminution of ability? Traveling by rowed long boat on a broad river belittled compared to a multi-week horse-back journey or walking as far? A breech-loading, flintlock rifle? (I’m not even sure how it’d work.) Intrusion of “modern” technology (nineteenth in our world versus the pervasive thirteenth-or-earlier-century technology)? Move to the other side of the world, just follow a ghost path? Too convenient.

“If you get away with it it’s no crime.”

Elizabeth Bear tells a great tale. I will read more of her work.

“We are who we pretend to be, when we stop we’re nothing.”