Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Beautiful cover ❤

I’ve listened to a short story or two by Elizabeth Bear on audible with a good amount of liking them, but hadn’t ever read any of her novels. Oh, I’ve been meaning to for ages. In fact, I’ve got more than one of them in my audible library, but the TBR of Babel is such a ridiculous thing at this point, and I haven’t gotten to them yet.

Turns out that one of those books is the beginning of the trilogy that takes place before this one in the same world. Whoops! 😀 I’m usually pretty good at reading things chronologically, but I honestly had no idea. I promise I’ll get there. That said, this trilogy doesn’t seem to need that previous experience in the world to enjoy.

Also, I’d like to thank the author and Tor/Forge via NetGalley for the review copy of this book.

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 Dead Man knew perfectly well that what had driven the Gage to become a Gage was still driving him. Was a wound unhealed. But he was certainly willing to use the other’s self-delusion to win an argument. What otherwise was the intimate knowledge of friends for?

This book has some absolutely beautiful prose, to start with. Just sitting down and having a good couple hours over the weekend to get settled in the world was nice. It starts out with a bang, with a good deal of action in the first chapter but slows down a bit after that into more intrigue and politics. It’s still full of twists and turns, most of which I didn’t at all guess at, and settles into an ending that left me wanting more.

This story moves between a few POVs, alternating between four characters, the Gage and the Dead Man, mercenaries who are guarding a caravan traveling over the mountains into the Lotus Kingdoms while they also carry an important message to one of those kingdoms, and Mrithuri and Sayeh, two of the queens of different Lotus Kingdoms. There’s a war brewing in these kingdoms, and getting to see different facets of that from different places was neat. The changes in POV give a really interesting view of the world from different perspectives, and I liked that quite a lot.

The Gage is an interesting character, in that he is a humanoid automaton. Created by a long-dead Messaline Wizard, he’s human at his core, and brass everywhere else. The idea of how he came to be and where he comes from lent a little bit of wondrous curiosity to the story. The Dead Man is another interesting character, a mercenary now that his more or less raison d’être no longer exists, he and the Gage have become friends, of a sort, because of their very similar, and yet profoundly different circumstances.

I really enjoyed how the story unfolded in this one, as you learn more and more details about each of the characters and how they got to be where they are. I loved the relationships that were forged between characters. I wasn’t sure right at the onset of her storyline whether I was going to end up liking Mrithuri, but she ended up being pretty much my favorite by the end. Her and the Dead Man.

The Dead Man, who seemed rather ronin-ish, reminded me so much of Yojimbo, who is one of my all time favorite beings in the entire Final Fantasy universe. Mrithuri also has a bear-dog that definitely reminded me of his companion, Daigoro. So, this is kind of where my imagination led me with them.

All told, I really liked this one. I’m excited to read the next volume. I think in the interim, I will go ahead and try to finish the Eternal Sky series. *a million books fall on me* (I’m actually really glad that my kindle and audible clouds are never truly represented in my head in a way that does justice to how enormous they truly are. :D) 4/5 stars!


Thanks again to Tor/Forge via NetGalley for the review copy of this book!

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