The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

“Two masterless mercenaries lead a caravan across the mountains known as the Steles of the Sky in this latest novel set in Bear’s lushly constructed “Eternal Sky” universe. The Dead Man was previously a loyal guard from the toppled Uthman Caliphate, while his partner is a Gage, a mechanical automaton who was once human. They have an urgent message to deliver to Mrithuri, the queen of one of the small Lotus Kingdoms, remnants of a shattered empire. Little do they know that they are walking into a war zone as enemies are poised to attack Mrithuri from all sides. Bear’s outstanding worldbuilding includes an India-inspired land, where the night sky is lit by a wash of stars brighter by far than the dark sun that rises each day. The diverse cast includes plenty of strong women, and the Dead Man and Gage are a team readers will want to follow for many more adventures. VERDICT “The Eternal Sky” trilogy (Range of Ghosts; Shattered Pillars; Steles of the Sky) is one of the great fantasy epics of the last decade, and Bear triumphantly returns to that setting, albeit a small corner that she has not previously explored.” — Library Journal, Starred Review