If the title alone doesn’t make your ears perk, this might not be the book for you. If the author Elizabeth Bear’s description of it as a “peri-apocalyptic noir Norse steampunk technofantasy” doesn’t, well . . . there’s not much I can do for you. I am a shameless fangirl for All the Windwracked Stars, and therefore I shall now babble joyfully a few reasons why (there are many more reasons, but, as I said, fangirl. I can squee all day about the excellence that is Mingan, Suneater and destroyer of worlds).
But first, a note on the cover: if I hadn’t already been craving this book for months before its release, the cover alone would have made me pick it up. It shows a two-headed, winged, antlered, horned steed. He’s named Kasimir. My zoologist’s heart goes pit-a-pat every time I think of him.
But onward, to the novel itself. I tend to prefer Bear’s short work, such as “Orm the Beautiful” and “This Tragic Glass”, since in her novels I’ve often had trouble with tangled plotlines and difficult-to-care-about characters. In All the Windwracked Stars, however, Bear continues to show her skill at creating deep, imaginative worlds while also following sympathetic characters (even the character most easily classified as an antagonist is a hero at certain angles, and vice versa) in a plot both complex and comprehensible.
The story opens at the end of the world—yes, the end of the world, and the side of Light has lost. Familiarity with Norse mythology isn’t required, though it resonates throughout the setting and story (the bulk of which takes place two thousand years later, as the world is finally finishing dying). Bear as ever packs her work with Cool Stuff—one of my favorite passages in the entire novel is this:
“ . . . human society had flourished very well—had blossomed—without them.
“Blossomed. And then fallen like the rose to the canker—rotten, slimed, and dead. They did it themselves, the Desolation, created it with their bioweapons and their radiation bombs, with their shoggoth main battle groups and their killer robots and their orbital microwave projectors, their mass projectors and combat sorcerers and laser-guided death curses.”
All the Windwracked Stars is so dense and twisty even trying to describe the main characters risks giving spoilers. To start with, though, we follow Muire: the last valkyrie, who in cowardice fled the battlefield millennia ago and thus survived, alone and shamed. She guards the last living city, as the world winds down to death. Now Mingan the Grey Wolf, old enemy and devourer, has returned to hunt the streets, and all the remaining powers of the world are drawn into the battle to survive.
Needless to say, I’m already craving the forthcoming second book.
If this book were an animal, what would it be?
A valraven, of course—the two-headed, winged, antlered etc. steeds of the fallen host of Light. Magnificent, sorrowful, glorious in grim determination and the overpowering will to live.