Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book in a trilogy that's turned out to be a real treat for me. I didn't know what the expect from the start, and it continues to be full of fun surprises. I have no idea what might happen next, but I'm going to enjoy finding out.
The Eternal Sky trilogy's mythology takes a departure from traditionally European fantasy worlds, and borrows from Russian, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern stories. The reason seemingly contradictory mythologies can exist is because each land's supremacy is shown by whose sky shines overhead. This isn't a matter of time zones; it's a matter of the number of moons in a sky changing by stepping over a border.
In this, Temur, whose people are nomadic horse breeders and excellent warriors, accepts his role as the future Khagan of his people. The wizard (and once-Princess) Samarkar is there to help, as is Hrahima, a sentient tiger, and the silent monk Hsiung. But there are political forces massed against Temur. His cousin also wants to claim the throne, and is being both manipulated and helped by al-Sephehr, a powerful sorcerer with ancient magic under his control. Meanwhile, Edene, the woman he set out to rescue, amasses a kind of undead army to support him.
The characters have grown from their initial beginnings. Samarkar's magic has grown in strength, while Temur's acceptance of the responsibility he must bear is central to the story. We learn a lot more about their companions, and why they're accompanying them, and we even get some back story on the terrible assassin on Temur's trail.
Every page of this story fills out this lush, multifaceted world all the more. There's a lot going on here. The politics are just as complicated as in any historical period, the magic is well-thought-out and nicely balanced, and the people are as fleshed out and thoughtful as anyone you might meet in your hometown. There are no flat, "because I'm the bad guy" villains here, nor any easy answers that would solve everything.
I'm looking forward to what the next book holds. I have no idea what to expect. I think I know where it's headed, but, knowing this series, I'll be surprised. And I'll like it that way.
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