The second book in the Eternal Sky epic fantasy series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 333

Bear plays with lots of epic fantasy troupes here. It’s not my favorite Bear book but it could be because I’m not really that interested in epic fantasy anymore. Please read the first book “Range of Ghosts” first because she doesn’t waste pages recapping what came before (which is good IMHO).

Re Temur who is the grandson of the great but dead Khagan is still in exile, looking for his lover Edene who was kidnapped by ghosts. However, his quest has changed. Now he, and his companions, are also looking for a way to wrest power from Temur’s usurper uncle and to unite the steppe tribes once again. To do that, Temur has to find a band of loyal steppe soldiers. But first, he needs to rescue Edene from Ala-Din, the headquarters of the followers of the Nameless, the Scholar-God. They’re also assassins who are hunting the small group.

Samarkar-la is a wizard and a former princess. She’s only recently come to her power but has studied magic for years. She’s also in love with Temur and follows him loyally. She’s also looking for a way to stop the leader of the assassins. Hsiung is a mute warrior-monk and Hrahima is a warrior from a tiger-like species. They’ve become a tightly knit band of friends who are very capable of facing the challenges of the road and the assassins.

Meanwhile, a terrible plague is sweeping across the lands. The wizards in Tsarepheth are trying to fight it, while struggling with intrigue. Also, the leader of the Assassins, al-Sepehr, has sent one of his people to cement Temur’s uncle’s claim to become the Khagan, the king of all steppe tribes.

Much like in the first book, in “Shattered Pillars” the main group is moving from place to place with disaster and assassins on their heels. The people around them plot and plan and we see glimpses of them. This book has many POV characters, some of them new.

I like particularly two characters: Edene, who was a secondary character at best in the first book, rose to an unexpected prominence in this one. I loved her development. She was a spirited steppe woman in the first book and now she’s heavily pregnant with a magic ring which gives her extraordinary powers. She managed to escape her captors and encounters dog-faced ghulim who seem to worship her as a queen. She’s determined to keep her unborn child safe and also rescue Temur from whatever dangers he’s facing. And the best way to do that is to become the queen of an evil, mythical place! Loved that even though I don’t really see how she can have a happy ending. I also really grew to like Saadet who is the twin of one of the lead assassins. Her situation is very complicated and interesting.

This whole series is set in a world that has clearly been inspired by the Mongols and the Middle-East. There are some twists to the cultures, which I quite liked, too, such as the Scholar-God being female and yet her religion has been twisted into supporting oppression of women. Apparently, women are so holy that they can’t be seen by men or do anything but menial labor…

The series has a lot of women with agency which was great. Bear also plays with the roles that men and women usually play in epic fantasy books.

Quote:
“What was a book? Not just ink and fiber and stitchery: a series of processes. To a wizard, it was not a static object–but a human thought caught and bound, made concrete through sacred technology. Magic, then, and a deep form of it.”

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