The Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also the author is a personal friend.

This is the beginning of a new trilogy for Bear. It’s set in the same universe as Range of Ghosts and its sequels, which I loved, but it is not a sequel to them per se. As such, this is a great place to jump right in. Different things with different characters! Doing their own stuff with their own themes and foci! Readers famously–infamously–want “more of the same, but different”; this is definitely different, and I think setting it in the same universe will push enough of the “more of the same” buttons for many people.

What has it got in its pocketses? Well, the opener is an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on a frozen river. Frozen riverrrrr. So I’m in. The travelers there center on a pair of roving adventurers, who…don’t share a lot of the traits you expect of the classic fantasy traveling adventurers. Like being alive in all senses and human in all senses–though they are more human than many of the adventuring pairs I’ve read whose authors meant them to be human in all senses. The Dead Man and the Gage are my new favorite buddy road trip pair.

But it’s not just their book. There are also–for more than balance–two rajnis. Two princesses whose not-princess title matters, whose ruling roles are complex and who must make calculations about their own power, the power of those they care about, their people, their people’s relation to the environment. The water divers, the snakes, the elephant and the lilies…these are some of my favorite elements in a modern fantasy novel, pulling in politics and setting as they do. The way that rajni Sayeh’s life as a third sex person within her culture matters, the way that it does and does not change how she sits on her throne–but also the way that her motherhood changes everything she does. I love Sayeh best. There is always a risk that there will be one favorite character, with multi-POV novels, and I love Sayeh best–but not to the point where I was impatient to get through the other scenes, not to the point where I wanted to be done with Mrithuri or the Dead Man and the Gage.

This is definitely the beginning of a trilogy, so we have miles to go before we sleep. But I’m pretty eager to go those miles.

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