All the Windwracked Stars – Elizabeth Bear

About the Book
She is starlight made immortal flesh, and her soul lives inside her sword of light. She is Muire, the last of the Valkyrie, and she walks among the morals of Valdyrgard alone, save for the Valraven– one of the many-formed steeds who carried some of the Valkarie to war–who claimed her for his rider in the devastation of the Last Battle of the Children of the Light.

Because these two lived, Valdyrgard lives on as well, instead of falling into the darkness and cold of the dead worlds. 
Millennia have come and gone. Human civilization has risen to technological heights, and then fallen into desolation through war and ecological disaster. Only one city remains on Valdyrgard, kept alive under its dome by the workings of the technomancer who rules it. 
Muire has come to that city in the last days of civilization. She still bears the obligation of her kind, to avenge bold warriors slain by treachery and to fight for the just. But in the alleyways of the under-city she finds something she thought she would never see again…a trace of another Child of the Light
I’ve never read any Elizabeth Bear before and I honestly didn’t know much about her style before I picked up All the Windwracked Stars, so it was quite a learning experience for me. I get the general feeling that a person doesn’t pick up Bear’s work if they want to waltz through a world of lemon drops, rainbows and puppy farts-though I could be wrong on that point.
Bear is one hell of an author and has won numerous awards for her literary genius and its obvious why. She has a way with her words that is not only unique and descriptive without overdoing it, but also subtle. What I mean by this is that Bear obviously doesn’t believe in the phenomena knows as the “info dump.” For better or worse she throws you into her story and lets you sink or swim on your own.
I feel like that last part is an important point to make. Most of the time I’m a fan of authors who keep their info dumping to a minimum but with Bear this can be a double-edged sword. While it keeps her books refreshingly clean of any textbook style history lessons, it also means that the reader may very well spend a good chunk of their book scratching their head and wondering “what the hell?” And because of this, I think some readers could easily find themselves interested in the story, appreciative of the literary skills Bear imbues, but also very emotionally uninvolved in the characters or the happenings.
This book seems to toe a fantasy/science fiction line nicely. While most of the book seems to fall into the science fiction category, there is still a pleasant amount of fantasy elements within it. Much of the plot seems to hearken back to Norse mythology, which is both interesting and confusing at the same time. The first chapter of the book takes place after an epic battle thousands of years in the past where the Children of the Light were slaughtered. The reader is thrown into this amazingly icy world filled with death and destruction without really knowing what happened. The answer lies probably halfway through the book couched in enough text to easily be missed unless you are a detailed reader.
And therein lies another key on how, I feel, to properly enjoy this book. It is important to pay attention to the details. Bear seems to have a knack for keeping the reader blind to what is actually happening and all it’s deeper ramifications, only revealing the answers bit by bit to those readers who are paying enough attention to catch them when she throws them at you. Subtle. Bear seems to be very subtle.
This is not a happy book, though it’s not exactly a depressing book either. It comfortably seems to find its niche in a dark, emotionally heavy area without quite stepping into the miserable zone. Bear seems to excel at creating pain ridden characters, each with his or her own hidden histories and current motivations. There seems to be little besides the same drama they are all thrown into in the pages of All the Windwracked Stars that give the characters reason to even acknowledge each other’s presence. Even then there are so many hidden agendas and emotionally wrought histories between them all that their relationships seem to be constantly strained in some way and just a hair shy of genuine.
The plot is amazingly creative and so incredibly fresh and different from anything I’ve read before that I think it should be noted. Bear obviously did her research and it’s clear that she must have one hell of an imagination to pull something this unique off as well as she has. It’s a book that has managed to confuse me. After swimming through the first two books of Malazan Book of the Fallen I don’t think that’s a very easy literary feat for me anymore. However, despite being that confused, I still enjoyed every word, every page. It’s hard for books to manage that balance – that absolutely confusing quality while still managing to keep it enjoyable; though I’ll admit that her incredible writing did help.
The ending is satisfying, though I’m not exactly sure where Bear plans to go with it. It is anyone’s guess. That’s part of the mystery and the art and all the things I’m guessing Bear is: ambiguous, mysterious, unpredictable and refreshingly different. Of course, I’ll have to read more of her stuff to see if all of her books have those qualities or if it’s just this one.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book and find myself in awe of Bear’s incredible writing and her ability to dream up one of the most unique plots I’ve ever found myself waltzing through. She should be noted for being able to successfully dance on many lines – the lines between fantasy and science fiction, between heavy and depressing. I do think potential readers might not find this book quite as satisfying as I found it for many reasons. It’s very, very confusing and will require some re-reading of certain passages to fully understand everything. Bear truly throws the reader into the deep end of the pool and lets you figure out how to swim on your own. It’s not a happy, light read, either. These two facts combined may cause some readers to feel rather disconnected with her world and her characters. Even then I’m sure most readers will be able to appreciate her world and plot even if they can’t really emotionally invest themselves in it.
4/5 stars

6 Responses

  • Jamie Gibbs

    Damnit, I had this one in my to read list 😛 It sounds like an awesome read though, I'll have to check it out 🙂 The Norse mythology link is the kicker for me; it's about damn time there were more fantasy novels that are based on actual mythology 🙂

  • Sarah

    I agree!!! It was a really interesting read. If you like mythology (myself, I am a sucker for that kind of thing) chances are you'll probably really enjoy this book. I'm anxious to see how you like it when you get around to reading it.

  • Kristen

    Great review! I do love Elizabeth Bear's writing and her other book in this series, By the Mountain Bound, is my favorite by her I've read so far. It came out second but it's actually a prequel that leads up to the events at the start of this book.

    All of Bear's books I've read have a lot of mythology (I do have yet to read any of her science fiction that's not a fantasy hybrid like this one, though). I also like how subtle she is and her characters. She's one of my favorite authors, and she's also very prolific so I haven't even read all her books yet (which is kind of nice since I have a lot to look forward to).

  • Mark Timmony

    Another one on the list…/sigh


  • Brenda

    The only book I've read by Bear is Hammered, and while I thought it was a little hard to get into at the start, I ended up loving it. I want to read more by her.

  • lexlingua

    I have the audiobook of this, and was googling up the summary, when I came across your blog. Thank you for the wonderful review; it lets me know what to expect. 🙂

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