Review: Shattered Pillars

Posted: August 16, 2013 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Elizabeth Bear, Fantasy

I was blown away by RANGE OF GHOSTS (EBR Review) last year, and was so excited to receive SHATTERED PILLARS (Amazon) in the mail, the second installment of Elizabeth Bear’s The Eternal Sky trilogy. But before I start the review, if you haven’t read GHOSTS, stop and read it before you continue. PILLARS will not make sense if you read them out of order.

With that out of the way, the question I’m sure you’re wondering about is if the second is a good as the first. The short answer is: No, but only barely. However, PILLARS is still an excellent book in its own right.

Let’s start with the good stuff. All the things I loved about GHOSTS was evident in PILLARS: an imaginative setting, interesting characters, epic good vs evil story. Bear’s consistency across the books is excellent, including but not limited to the tone, pacing, and continuing build-up of the story and characterization. As before, her prose is astounding in its detail and stimulation of the senses, her observations on situational irony amusing counterpoints to the usually serious tone of the story. The dialogue and character interaction is particularly well done–it is crisp, insightful, and propels the story forward.

Bear expands the world even more in PILLARS, showing us the differing sensibilities between the cultures and their traditions, as well as the wizards of Tsarepheth in their element, and how dangerous the old magics are. The same characters you grew to know and love have experienced hardship and as a result are different people. After the events of GHOSTS, they can now stop, think, and begin to make choices that will impact their future: Will Temur decide to oppose his uncle? Will Samarkar follow Temur as he attempts to save his lover? What is al-Sepehr’s next move and can they stop him?

It is these things that make PILLARS an excellent book. But it unfortunately still suffers a little from middle book syndrome. While Bear does well tying up plotlines and weaving new ones, the story still feels like a continuation/build-up/act 2, making it less the cohesive story it needs to be in its own right. It doesn’t help that the climax feels less like a culmination of the novel and more like another big event. It is this reality that will make newcomers to the series hard to persuade to continue reading to book three, because without having read GHOSTS, PILLARS will lack meaning to them, they won’t connect with the characters, and they will be lost in the setting.

Bear is painting a beautiful story in an exotic and foreign land with the kinds of people we want to see succeed. A timeless story with a fresh perspective.

There are some inconsistencies with setting/plot that weren’t clear to me, particularly Edene’s storyline. Is Bear attempting a mythological feel? Will she explain more later? Also, there are much more switches back and forth between characters than in the first book, as well as more PoV characters. In a recent review of SKARLET (EBR Review) I complained about those very things, and while Bear does it with much more finesse and a better sense of timing, it did get overwhelming sometimes, making it harder for me to absorb the story as a whole.

Still, Bear is painting a beautiful story in an exotic and foreign land with the kinds of people we want to see succeed. GHOSTS and PILLARS are written in the epic fantasy tradition, but Bear tells a timeless story with a fresh perspective. I can’t wait til book three.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Maybe one instance
  • Violence: There's fighting (not as much as book 1) with some gore; a plague with resulting gory descriptions of deaths and surgeries
  • Sex: Scenes referenced with minimal detail

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