The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

the stoneI’m going to start this review by saying that I loved The Stone in the Skull.  This is a beautifully written story, truly epic in scope, resplendent with creativity and graced with wonderful characters that you can’t help feeling attached to and caring about.

The story gets off to a breathtaking start and a speedy introduction to two of our main characters.  A caravan travelling south across the Steles of the Sky is attacked and only the quick thinking of two of the mercenaries hired as protection saves the day.  Gage and The Dead Man.  They carry an important message and are anxious to reach the Lotus Kingdom in a timely fashion.

Meanwhile we witness two important ceremonies.  The first introduces us to Mrithuri as she embarks on an age old ceremony that will bestow a prophecy upon her kingdom for the forthcoming months.  Mrithuri is ruler to a prosperous kingdom.  As such she has been pursued by plenty of suitors and whilst she has managed to fend off proposals for many years, not wishing to hand over her power to a man, the issue is becoming more critical and her neighbours, tired of waiting for an alliance through marriage are amassing armies on her doorstep.  The second ceremony is a more dangerous affair that involves divers seeking fresh water to sustain the people of the kingdom.  Reyna, cousin to Mrithuri, is currently acting Regent for her three year old son.  Her kingdom is much poorer and her people frequently struggle to survive.  Unfortunately, the water gathering doesn’t go exactly as planned and whilst this will once again cause unrest and undoubtedly prompt the people to call for Reyna to marry, it also highlights a much greater threat to the kingdom.

To the characters then.  The main four are as above, although there are also a number of intriguing peripheral characters.  The two main females play strong roles and I really enjoyed reading about both heir stories but I can’t deny that, for me, the Gage and the Dead Man stole the show a little with their friendship and strange, yet compelling, banter.  The Gage, once a human being, is now an automaton, created by a Wizard who no longer exists.  The Dead Man was once a bodyguard to a deposed Caliphate.  Both, lacking purpose, have become mercenaries.  Strangely enough, and in spite of the scope of the story here, I would almost say that the real focus for this instalment at least, is for these two to find a purpose – which they certainly manage to do by the end of the book.  What I really liked about all the characters is the amount of emotional depth that Bear succeeds in bestowing upon them, it’s enough to make you weep with joy.  Seriously, this author is an expert at characterisation.  I think where she also really succeeds is in finding their individual motivations and this is what makes them so compelling to read.

I’m not going to elaborate on the plot, suffice to say that there is truly a lot of scope here not to mention an elaborate set up for the next book – in a good way.  However, if you’re expecting 10,000 orcs marching into battle with all the resultant bloodshed then you may be slightly disappointed.  This story may be epic but the majority of the action takes place off page.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably making it sound as though nothing happens, which is far from the truth, there are disasters and betrayals that inevitably lead to bloodshed and violence, but the nature of this story focuses much more intently on the central characters and the political and court intrigue surrounding them.  There are riddles, poets, magicians, revenants and kidnapping and a final uncovering of certain inevitable truths that will no doubt be the focus of the next book.  The writing is compelling and beautiful and the overall result is a gradual but deep connection to the main cast and for me an irresistible urge to have the next instalment in front of me right now.

Put simply, I loved this.  The setting is well portrayed, the cast are easy to embrace and the overall plot is intriguing.  I’m not going to deny that this is a slow build and that once the initial burst of excitement from the opening chapters is out of the way this does calm down considerably but personally I didn’t find that a problem because I was so engrossed in the Lotus Kingdom and it’s rich descriptions.  A real beauty of a book.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


Waiting on Wednesday : The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was created by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

stone.jpgThe 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.

Due October 2017 so not too much longer to wait.