Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear
Second entry of a complex and beautifully rendered historical-fantasy trilogy (after Range of Ghosts, 2012).
Prime mover in all the churning plots and intrigues here is ambitious necromancer and blood-sorcerer al-Sepehr, head of the Nameless assassin cult. He has arranged to install usurper Qori Buqa as ruler of the nomad horse-warrior Khaganate Empire, although he failed to kill Temur, the true heir and Qori Buqa’s nephew. Having captured Edene, Temur’s woman, al-Sepehr conveyed her to his remote, impregnable fortress, Ala-Din. Resourceful Edene, however, stole a mysteriously powerful green ring and escaped—though Temur doesn’t yet know this. Edene flees to Erem, capital of a long-extinct empire whose magic was feared by all, where now heavily pregnant, she’s declared queen by the nonhuman ghuls because of the ring. Hoping to rally the horse-clans to his cause, Temur sets off with his companions, Samarkar the wizard and Hrahima, a huge human-tiger Cho-tse warrior, to rescue Edene. Al-Sepehr sends his daughter and agent, Saadet—she carries in her head the mind of her slain brother, Shahruz, previously slain by Temur—to beguile and bamboozle Qori Buqa, his supposed ally. Meanwhile, al-Sepehr studies the magic of Erem, forcing slave-women to read aloud from books of magic so powerful that the mere act of reading them causes blindness. And the Rasan Empire, riven by internal politics and treachery, suffers a lethal plague whence tiny demons hatch in the lungs of its victims. All this is less tightly woven than the first volume, and in one or two places, Bear forgoes logic for furious action and writes herself into a corner. Still, these are minor blemishes amid the meticulously detailed cultural and geographic backdrop. A compelling follow-up that no fan of Book 1 will want to miss. –Kirkus, Starred Review