Review: The Red-Stained Wings
Once upon a time, the Alchemical Emperor created an empire among the ruins of former kingdoms. With his own magic he created a palace like no other. Now his posterity fight over the fractured lands inherited by his children. Two ranji queens rule the sister Sarathi palaces, but their two male cousins (each cursed with the inability to procreate their own heirs), attempt to take power for themselves via subterfuge or outright war.
Rajni Mrithuri, the ruler of Sarathai-tia, will never be considered the equal in power to a raja king, and faces an army on her doorstep — she will do all in her power to save her people and city. Rajni Sayah is hostage to her cousin Anuraja, a man on a mission to become the new emperor of the lands of his grandfather by deposing the queens who currently rule it; but being hostage doesn’t mean she can’t plot.
THE RED-STAINED WINGS is book 2 of the The Lotus Kingdoms, after THE STONE IN THE SKULL (EBR review) and Elizabeth Bear is in fine form in this series. It’s full of foreign lands and the strange magic that inhabits it. And while the characters are as unusual and strange as the lands they live in, it’s still easy to understand their hopes and dreams.
In THE STONE The Dead Man was sent by a sorceress to aid the ranjis of Sarathi, and it’s a good thing she did because his council and sword has helped the young woman to keep hold of her throne. In RED-STAINED, he has become the rajni’s bodyguard; but they’ve also become lovers. While he often questions why he’s staying in a city (Sarathai-tia) under siege when he really has no reason to stay, he can’t seem to tear himself away from the lovely Mrithuri.
The Gage’s story is told in only a few chapters, but the things he sees adds an element of the weird, yet also revelatory. We see a bigger picture of the wider world and the past events that have shaped the present. His impervious metal body has protected him during his quest where a regular man would have died. He searches for something to stop the war and save a people he hardly knows.
Himadra and Anuraja are the two male cousins who attempt to take thrones that belong to women. Anuraja is the strong-armed type and it’s his army that threatens Sarathai-tia and has left Ansh-Sahal in rubble. Himadra can’t necessarily use direct means, partly because Anuraja has his brothers at court and because his small kingdom doesn’t have the resources to fund an army like Anuraja’s. But he’s cunning and understands his physical limitations. He has the child who would inherit Ansh-Sahal, if it weren’t flattened by natural and man-made causes; his mother Sayah, despite her imprisonment, has not forgotten him and plans to get him back.
Unbeknownst to all of them, the real reason for the war may not necessarily be because the four cousins can’t live in harmony, but because a creature that feeds off war is perpetuating it.
Elizabeth Bear packs so much into such small books. They are so engaging to read and always keep me on my toes. The magic, the cities and their surroundings, the people all have their part to play in this story and she squeezes every drop she can out of them. There’s no wasted breath. But at the same time her prose is lovely and easy to visualize the people as they move throughout the story. The pacing may be similar to THE STONE, but in RED-STAINED the threat and losses are real, so the tension is higher and more immediate. Who are these two sorcerers that work for Himadra and Anuraja to make the war possible? Will the Gage’s quest succeed? Will Mrithuri be able to thwart the power-hungry Anuraja? So many questions, and so many twists to get there.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: A couple handfuls
- Violence: War-related blood and death; death related to natural disasters
- Sex: Referenced