Book Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear (Two Stars)


Book Review: The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Two Stars

“We’re not the heroes of the story. We’re those guys who wander in during the third act to pick up the dirty work.”

A pleasant excursion into a world analogous to southern Asia before the British spoiled the local fun. Don’t read the blurb; it reveals too much backstory about the cauled sun and other phenomena of this world, robbing the reader of wonder and discovery.

“Duty above anything else. And then the lifetime regret for choices untaken.”

Decent character and world building. Enough strands that, at first, the reader is adrift. Enough point of view characters to bring the reader into the story without a lot of data dumps. Almost too many characters. Some of them remain enigmas throughout, appropriate for a multi-volume tale.

“The world was a dune. It moved on and things and places and people you loved or hated or had your heart broken by had vanished beneath it and the only mark they left was on your soul.”

Good writing but shoddy editing: double negatives, awkward phraseology (“stepped back away”) and a lot of telling rather than showing. Not terrible, but it knocks the reader out of the spell of the story too often.

“The pen moves on, and leaves a thought behind.”

The soft porn scene was unnecessary–in fact, out of character–and offensive. Cost a star.

“The years pass. Pride fails. You learn to take what is offered.”

Even so, was three four stars right up to the end. And then it didn’t finish so much as stop. Unless the reader is ready to commit to the whole series, nothing is resolved that we didn’t know was going to be resolved a quarter of the way through. Readers will recognize the titular stone in the skull before the characters, but who skull and how is … wait, that would spoil the fun.

“On the choices we make in thoughtless childhood are the rest of our long lives hung. Those who get any choice at all.”