Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear. ★★★1/2
Shattered Pillars is the second book in Bear’s Eternal Sky series, which starts with Range of Ghosts, an epic fantasy series with a setting based off Central Asia. You will need to read the first book before picking up Shattered Pillars, but there are no spoilers for the first book in this review.
Temur is the grandson of the Great Khan, who’s empire is being torn asunder in a civil war. As a potential heir, Temur’s sought by assassins sent by his uncle. Samarkar was once a princess of the Rasan Empire, before she gave up her position to become a wizard of the Citadel. When a secret cult sets out to topple empires, it is Temur and Samarkar who are caught in the middle.
There’s things I love about Shattered Pillars, but also areas where I think it’s lacking. Crucially, I could copy and paste my review of the first book for this one. I actually did do that for the above plot summary.
I noted in my review of the first book that it felt like the majority of the novel was characters moving from place to place. This remains true. Temur, Samarkar, and their allies are moving from Point A to Point B, with attacks from random assassins in a failed effort to give some urgency. The beginning was slow, although I did get more involved with it later on. I still think this series has major problems with pacing and plotting.
However… this series does have its good points, which also happen to fall onto my list of favorite things. The imagery is spectacular. The setting is imaginative and wondrous, and Bear brings it to life beautifully with her excellent prose. It’s the sort of setting that makes me want to break out my watercolors and make some illustrations.
Shattered Pillars also has a wide variety of female characters who do things. One of my particular favorites is Hrahima, who’s a member of a tiger-like species and who’s secrets are being slowly revealed. I’m also growing increasingly interested in the sister assassin, Saadet.
I do wonder if this series is just a mediocre plot and story with a fantastic paint job. Is it the literary equivalent of James Cameron’s Avatar with its all immersive visuals but ho hum story? Regardless, I’ve already bought the final book in the trilogy.
If you’re looking for vivid and beautiful world building, you should definitely check the Eternal Sky trilogy out. If you’re looking for an epic fantasy with prominent and well written female characters, it’s also worth looking into.