Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Bear’s astonishing world building is in full swing here, and she builds the arcs of her two major characters into what hopes to be a brilliant whole in the forthcoming final book. Temur and Samarkar still search for Edene, captured by the leader of the Uthman cult, who are bent on sowing war in the lands of the Celadon Highway. Edene, escaped, travels under the deadly sky of a vanished empire. The wizards’ city is besieged, a sickness felling the population. Tsering is at the heart of studying it, and she is a tremendous force despite never having developed the wizard’s power. Temur and Samarkar’s journey, under the skies of many people, is epic. But Bear maintains the nuance she is so capable of, in the way characters interact with and respond to new places, not quite subverting genre but pointing out how much more it should be. This is a novel with no padding: everything is necessary and linked, and the politics that run through the various empires are rooted solidly in believable human motivation. — Booklist