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Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky) Hardcover – 8 Apr 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (8 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765327562
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765327567
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 885,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Praise for Elizabeth Bear --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Eternal Sky Trilogy, including "Range of Ghosts," "Shattered Pillars," and "Steles of the Sky." Bear lives in Brookfield, Massachusetts. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. Whitehead TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Temur has raised his standard at Dragon Lake, gathering forces together for a final showdown with Al-Sephehr before he can bring about his plan to resurrect the Carrion Prince. Unexpected allies join Temur, but his army is still dwarfed by that of the enemy.

Steles of the Sky concludes The Eternal Sky, Elizabeth Bear's thoughtful and intelligent epic. Inspired by the history and vistas of Central Asia, The Eternal Sky puts character and dialogue ahead of carnage and mayhem and, for those of a cliched bent, could be described as a thinking reader's fantasy. It's a restrained novel that dwells on the humanity of its characters as much as the magic and mystery, and far moreso than the action. Certainly fans of authors like Guy Gavriel Kay will find much to reward them here.

That is not to say that action is not present, and what there is well-presented, but Bear's focus lies elsewhere. The rich tapestry of varied characters that we have enjoyed in previous volumes is back, and as the storylines dovetail into one another it's interesting to see characters reacquainting themselves with one another or meeting for the first time. It's a more balanced book, with the Temur/Samarkar 'main' strolling having equal weight here with the likes of Edene, Tsering and Saadet. Bear's enviable ability to create cultures with distinct customs that are influenced by real history but are also original creations also reaches its apex here, with the differences between these groups strengthening rather than dividing them.

The characterisation is rich and nuanced (particularly of Edene, whose storyline takes a more humane turn than I was expecting) and Bear skirts the edges of 'dark' fiction without either pulling her punches or digressing into needless violence.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
liked it but didn't love it (review is of entire trilogy) 14 Jun. 2014
By B. Capossere - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Sometimes the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, you just wonder if you should have read a book (or three) at a different time. Sometimes you step back from your thoughts about a book (or three) and think, “Ingrate. What more did you need?” You feel, I don’t know, “churlish.” Like when that other person who is so smart and deep and beautiful and cute (which is different from beautiful) and witty and likes all the same music and read those same books and all in all just so great, really great, and all your friends are like, “You know, she (he’s) really into you” and you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And they’re like, “What, you think you’re gonna do better?” And you’re like, “No. But still, I just don’t know. I’m just not . . . “ But they don’t even want to hear it. They just go, “Idiot,” and walk off. And all you can do is shrug and nod in probable agreement.

So yeah. Elizabeth Bear’s ETERNAL SKY trilogy. So smart. So deep. So beautiful. I mean, it really checks all the boxes, you know? Complex, realistic characters. Cultures that are painted not just in broadbrush strokes—“horse culture,” “Eastern culture”—but feel authentic across the spectrum of sharply realized details—not just food but the way it is consumed, not just drink but the way the tea is poured. Grand battles. Ingrained mythos. Big ideas. Strong females. Prose carved to a near-perfect edge. Moving moments. Bittersweet endings. Dragons. Humor. Wholly alien cultures left mysterious. Long walks on the beach. Dinners for two on the patio under the stars. Well, you get the idea. All the boxes.

And yet. (And here is where you just say, “Idiot,” and walk away). I liked it. I admired it. But it didn’t grab me as I knew it should. It didn’t fully move me as I knew it should. And I have to say, I was really feeling its length by the time I was halfway through the third and concluding novel, Steles of the Sky, and really wishing things would pick up a bit. I rarely, like almost never, flip to see how much of a book I have left to finish, but I did several times while reading Steles.

But let’s start at the beginning. In Range of Ghosts, Bear introduces us to this world clearly set geographically and culturally in a slightly bent Central Asia, including (but not limited to) the kingdoms/regions of the Chinese Song, the Mongolian Steppe, Tibetan monks, the Caliphates, the Russian Empire, Kiev, The Silk Road (called here the Celadon Highway), etc. Within and without (and even under) this familiar world are a host of other peoples, such as the Cho-tse (tiger-people), the ghulim (former servants of a grand past culture that seemingly destroyed itself), giant yeti-like people of the mountains. Not to mention dragons, horse-spirits, djinn, demons, rocs (“rhuks” here), and more. A world that swims gracefully in myth and legend and spirit, and wades more muddily through politics and violence. And my absolutely favorite part of this vision? The skies above the region change based on who controls the area. Yes, the skies. Different ruler, different suns, different moons (not just kinds, but different numbers of each):

She had lived under two skies, Rasan and Song, and passed through the lands ruled by Qersnyk sikes on her road between. This one she did not know. It unsettled her . . . Whose sky is that, anyway? . . . Whose conquest is marked by this sun?”

Love that. So beautiful. So smart. “Idiot.”

There’s a dark lord once defeated and waiting to rise (though we get different versions of that defeat and Bear plays quite smartly with the trope). A cult bent on that goal, led by the sorcerer Mukhtar ai-Idoj, al-Sepehr and the twins Saadet and Shahruz. A young boy, Temur, made early on via civil war a claimant to the Great Khagan who must assert himself while avoiding multiple assassination attempts. A young girl, Edene, Temur’s first love stolen away by the cult’s leader, thus prompting the usual quest to free the damsel in distress (and if you’re paying attention, you’re not surprised it doesn’t play out in the usual fashion). A Rasan princess, Samarka-la, who gave up the chance at political power for wizardly power and who joins herself to Temur. As do Hrahima, a complex Cho-tse, and Brother Hsiung, a monk bound by a vow of silence who each morning must fight the strange green taint in his eyes. Oh, and a very unique horse. As with the various cultures, each of these feels like a real individual, with all the richness of actuality, all the positive traits and all the flaws.

Range of Ghosts introduces us to this rich, complex world and sets up alliances and opposition forces, allows al-Sepehr and the twins to put their machinations in place, and moves characters into position. Book two, Shattered Pillars introduces more vivid characters and settings and raises the urgency level, with more civil unrest, Temur’s attempt to sneak into the sorcerer’s impregnable fortress to rescue Edene, Edene’s own attempt to rescue herself, and a horrifyingly original plague that strikes Rasan’s imperial city. Though I have to say, perhaps my favorite part in this one, or at least the one I giveher the most bonus points for, is when she has Temur stab himself with his own unsheathed dagger in the midst of chaos—that’s been a pet peeve of mine for years, if not decades, all that uncovered sharp metal waving about in people’s hands and doing no damage save what was intended. Have these author’s never been in an emergency room? On a more problematic note, this is where I was starting to feel Temur’s horse becoming too much a deus ex machina, though I’ll grant Bear has her reasons for that (it still bothered me).

Steles of the Sky brings it all to a close, adding a few more characters but really what is best about the concluding novel is how it deepens the characters we’ve spent so much time with and also the relationships between them. The other strong point is how Bear continues to conclude familiar plot/characters tropes in unexpected fashion. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, it did so in too slow or ponderous a fashion for me. Steles is about 100 pages longer than the prior two novels, and I’m not sure that was a good change, though I understand that the culminating battle (a wonderful set scene) taking up such a major portion of the end drives that somewhat. I also had a problem with how quickly a few of the characters changed their attitudes toward certain people/things, not the actual change but just the speed of it.

The deus ex machine and the somewhat unearned character changes were nagging, and that the last book had the most issues with pacing probably tainted my view of the entire trilogy, but even through books one and two I was feeling that I wasn’t just enjoying this series as much as I should be. I wish I could say why I was resistant, but the reason escapes me, since, as catalogued above, it has so much of what I look for. On our scale, I’d have to give it a solid and admiring, if uninspiring, 3.5, but I’d also suggest taking that with a grain of salt (and with a heaping helping of our other reviews

(originally appeared on fantasyliterature.com)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A different kind of fantasy series. 14 Oct. 2014
By A. Whitehead - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Temur has raised his standard at Dragon Lake, gathering forces together for a final showdown with Al-Sephehr before he can bring about his plan to resurrect the Carrion Prince. Unexpected allies join Temur, but his army is still dwarfed by that of the enemy.

Steles of the Sky concludes The Eternal Sky, Elizabeth Bear's thoughtful and intelligent epic. Inspired by the history and vistas of Central Asia, The Eternal Sky puts character and dialogue ahead of carnage and mayhem and, for those of a cliched bent, could be described as a thinking reader's fantasy. It's a restrained novel that dwells on the humanity of its characters as much as the magic and mystery, and far moreso than the action. Certainly fans of authors like Guy Gavriel Kay will find much to reward them here.

That is not to say that action is not present, and what there is well-presented, but Bear's focus lies elsewhere. The rich tapestry of varied characters that we have enjoyed in previous volumes is back, and as the storylines dovetail into one another it's interesting to see characters reacquainting themselves with one another or meeting for the first time. It's a more balanced book, with the Temur/Samarkar 'main' strolling having equal weight here with the likes of Edene, Tsering and Saadet. Bear's enviable ability to create cultures with distinct customs that are influenced by real history but are also original creations also reaches its apex here, with the differences between these groups strengthening rather than dividing them.

The characterisation is rich and nuanced (particularly of Edene, whose storyline takes a more humane turn than I was expecting) and Bear skirts the edges of 'dark' fiction without either pulling her punches or digressing into needless violence. What Bear does instead, especially with Al-Sephehr and Saadet, is hints at the darkness of the souls of her antagonists which is more difficult but ultimately more rewarding.

There are reservations: the climactic battle is over in a handful of pages and some storylines feel a little perfunctory in their resolutions. But perhaps I was expecting a more slavishly traditional fantasy novel than what we got instead, which is far more interesting, rewarding and poetical.

Steles of the Sky (****½) is available now in the UK and USA.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Elizabear Bear Beats Tolkien at His Own Game 2 May 2014
By Susan Loyal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm going all in here. When I read Range of Ghosts two years ago, I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was reading an epic fantasy--finally--that contained everything I'd always wanted in an epic fantasy and never been able to find there. Steles of the Sky confirms my conviction, while handling almost every familiar major epic fantasy trope, every one of them just slightly, perfectly refocused.

It's nearly impossible to discuss this novel without some risk of spoilers, so if you wish to avoid them, please stop reading this review and go read the trilogy!

I had truly thought that the Great Battle Between Good and Evil was well past it's best-by date. I was wrong, and I'd give quite a lot to see this one on a big, big movie screen. I guarantee that you will never think of a cavalry charge the same way again. Or a ring of power. Or an alliance of heroes. Or single combat by champions.

Among other things, female characters fully inhabit the range of roles: wizard, warrior, scholar, priest, poet, monarch, administrator, mother, lover, spy, tactician, physician. Heroes grow into their roles, rather than springing from the ground ready-made, and there are dozens of paths to heroism. As a result, the long road to the final battle is slow, but full of character development, full of choice, full of change.

Bear hits the famous Tolkienian elegiac note of sacrifice and loss, and it rings true. But there is also a greater sense of achievement, power, and hope in her ending, a genuine sweetness that is not cloying.

However, if you want beer at the Prancing Pony, you'll still need Tolkien. The world of The Eternal Sky has plenty of tea and fermented mare's milk, but no beer.

Another reviewer recommends the Jacob's Ladder books instead. I recommend them in addition. (Taste. So individual. Is chocolate really better than lemon?) I would say that if you have genuinely never liked anything about epic fantasy, I don't think The Eternal Sky trilogy will change your mind. It is truly an homage, Variations on a Theme, a riff. And a brilliant one. For those of us who love traditional epic fantasy but take issue with it, it's a gift.
Good Auspices 6 Jan. 2015
By Micah Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every clunky storytelling element from the first two books, from the sudden introduction of the Djinn to the left-field importance of Danupati's remains and regalia, finds a natural and invigorating payoff in the subversive and final installment of The Eternal Sky.

On the surface, these books form a quest narrative as plainly classical and Campbellian as possible. Dig deeper, though, and the machinery of precisely those types of story is being pulled apart at every turn. From the politics of empire to gender roles and the ideas of destiny and karmic fate so intrinsic to fantasy narratives, Bear's work breaks the mold without ever taking the podium or breaking its weary but ultimately hopeful mood.

The world presented at the series' end is not one preserved or victorious, it is one bettered.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
disappointing 18 April 2014
By Marcia Bolton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I looked forward to this trilogy since I loved the Jacob's Ladder trio , truly different and wonderful and engrossing books. I enjoyed those more than any I have read in quite a while and they remain vivid and wonderful several years later. These however were more of the same old "boy with no parents and some friends on a quest" .. A tired much used theme. The magic is random and kind of silly and always some new stuff just when it is needed. I did finish all three since I am a good speed reader when I don't care to savor and enjoy beautiful or interesting writing. I think I won't even remember these books in a month. Anyone out there - head for Jacob's Ladder for a unique and wonderful "quest".
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