Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Also by this author: Karen Memory
Published by Tor Books on October 10th 2017
The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.
The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.
They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.
The Stone in the Skull kicks off strong with a unique and visual scene of a group of mercenaries featuring two of the main characters. Gage is an automaton and the other one? He is called The Dead Man. OK, it got my attention! Then when the setting changes, I honestly became more invested and quickly preferred the perspectives of Sayeh and Mrithuri, two powerful women who are each ruling their own kingdoms. Gotta love a book that features not just one, but two powerful women that can control the fate of their land. So, my first impressions this book were really strong, however, I am was disappointed that my overall experience was not on that same level.
This is one of those books that I leave feeling quite conflicted. It started strong and through out, there were parts and passages of it that I loved, convincing me that I would have an overall positive experience. Unfortnately, something held me back. While I love the premise of this book, and I actually quite like most of her prose there seemed to be a pacing issue as well as inconsistent strength of perspectives. As the book progressed, I realized I found myself rather detatched from most of the characters and in turn, eventually, the story itself. This book was so different from the fun and fast paced Karen Memory and maybe it was at a slight disadvantage because when I started as I was in the mood for fast and fun.
Honestly, this book has some impressive strengths, I can not deny Bear’s ability to craft prose and create richly detailed scenes as the book is vivid and quite descriptive. The passages hold on their own, particularly if you enjoy details. However, I really feel like I would have enjoyed this more if more time had been spent on character development. I am a reader who needs an attachment to the characters or at least their story and I found the slow pace just didn’t work for me in this one. So while I had an initially positive experience, unfortunately the story as a whole just didnt hold my attention. For readers that love descriptive prose, I would still recommend they give this one a try as there were enough strengths that I am sure other readers may have a more positive experience than I did.