Steles of the Sky is the conclusion to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, following Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars. Though this story has been completed, there will be a second trilogy of books set in this world with the first book scheduled for release in 2017, The Lotus Kingdoms.
For this mini-review, I am not going to write about the plot. Instead, here is the book description with my thoughts on the book below.
Elizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy Eternal Sky trilogy in Steles of the Sky.
Re Temur, legitimate heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather in his army of followers. But Temur’s enemies are not idle; the leader of the Nameless Assassins, who has shattered the peace of the Steppe, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. All the world seems to be on fire, and who knows if even the beloved son of the Eternal Sky can save it?
Steles of the Sky was one of my most anticipated books of 2014 since the first two books in the Eternal Sky trilogy, Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars, are phenomenal. Both are beautifully written with a variety of well-developed characters, and the series is set in a vividly drawn world inspired by Central Asia. Range of Ghosts set the stage by introducing the world and characters, largely through the stories of Temur and Samarkar. In Shattered Pillars, the story expanded to focus on more individual characters, but I felt that having this view of different events and character motivations made it a better book despite some slower pacing. I thought this middle volume maintained the right balance between too much detail and too little—scenes were vivid and easy to visualize without bogging down the story.
Unfortunately, I felt that Steles of the Sky failed in this respect and was bogged down by too many scenes that added nothing to the story other than additional pages. It does contain a decent, satisfying end to the trilogy; however, I had to read nearly as many pages as those within the first book alone to get to the compelling parts. Steles of the Sky is about 100 pages longer than each of the first two books in the trilogy, and it really did not need the extra length. The beginning and middle mostly focused on traveling and getting the different characters in place for the end without many engaging scenes, making a significant portion of the book quite dull. Though there is still some lovely writing, it’s missing the strong character development or sparkling dialogue that could have kept me invested in the story despite its slow forward momentum as it made its way toward a conclusion. Instead, I ended up setting this book aside a couple of times to read other books because I had such difficulty forcing myself to slog through all those pages. Even though it does greatly improve as it nears the end, the pacing is still awkward since the finale picks up the pace too much and is hastily wrapped up.
I have very conflicted feelings about Steles of the Sky, and it was difficult for me to write this review since I do not want to discourage anyone from reading the series, particularly considering that my opinion on the final book does not seem to be a common one. The first two books in the Eternal Sky trilogy were both on my Hugo ballot since I thought they were excellent for myriad reasons—the gorgeous writing, the well-written characters, the world, the magic, and the way it subverted some common fantasy tropes including the damsel in distress and magic vs. science. The final book does contain much of what I loved about the first two, but it was poorly paced and I found it quite frustrating that there were not as many pages dedicated to the good parts of the story as the dull ones.
My Rating: 5/10
Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.
Other Reviews of Steles of the Sky:
Reviews of the Previous Eternal Sky Books: