Friday, July 06, 2018

The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

   

   Let’s talk about the ending first. As Book One of The Lotus Kingdom, The Stone in the Skull , does not conclude. It brakes hard. This book, once bundled with its sequels (I’m imagining the nine-hundred page LOTR volume), would be better enjoyed. Anticipated release date: next decade?

   These three-hundred pages ooze flavor, dripping fat like a spit-roasted chicken. Or strawberry syrup ala a chilled cheesecake. I can’t describe this book without invoking gourmet. The author repeatedly demonstrates her melodic ear. Tired of fantasy books which stress their plots and character webs?

    While this Lotus Kingdom land promises plenty interesting set-pieces (I’m wondering what that Singing Tower or Origin of Storms is like) the narrators here lavish loving detail on the props and the palaces. Ravishing curlicues of thought fill their minds, and in turn, the page. Witness the queen’s kohl-rimmed eyes, the blood-stained vultures, the metal man’s shining bulk, and the mud, lots o’ mud.

   If the book engages themes, it only does so lightly. Women’s ability to rule may be the most prominent. Leaving one’s mark, as abstract as such an idea sounds, also comes up again and again. The four narrators offer two easy tag-teams: The Gage & The Dead Man (Team Mark-It-Up), Mrithuri & Sayeh (Team Women Rule).

   CAUTION: names impossible to pronounce fill these pages. Either a) this will reinforce the flavor for you or b) be mucky. I never find myself quite inured to the phenomenon, but I tolerate it. The writing lulls me past the names and right into the mud again.

                                                            Read-alikes:

                
The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker - fantasy that foregrounds theatre

                                  
The Wizard by Gene Wolfe - sumptuous prose


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