The Stone in the Skull, Elizabeth Bear Book Review

Hello humans! Yes tis I, back from honeymoon and just about recovered. Ready to share with you lovely people all the books I finished as a newly married woman (don’t worry I did actually spend time with my husband on honeymoon!). I actually started The Stone in the Skull before we got married but the first week of honeymooning in London was so busy I didn’t finish it until a week later! Nonetheless I’m excited to share my thoughts on this book with you.

Goodreads Summary:

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Don’t take this summary for an example of all the book is. While The Gage and The Dead Man are important characters, there are other amazing characters who are also driving forces in this novel.

I feel like books at the moment are trending towards very short chapters with quick jumps between people and places. The Stone in the Skull goes in very much the opposite direction. I think one of the reasons this book took me so long was that the chapters are quite meaty. While it is multiple POV you stay with one character for so long it’s more like reading a collection of interwoven short stories. Since the different characters and places within this story are so rich in imagination and in description it certainly doesn’t make for a boring book, it just takes a bit of effort to really get your teeth into it.

I think it’s the little details within the heavy text that make this book as good as it is. I adored all the descriptions of The Gage, I have a very clear picture of how he would look in my mind. This level of detail extends throughout the book into the different cultures described, the individual characters. The description is so vivid I could probably still tell you now what I thought different people or places might smell like.

I’ll be interested to hear what others in the LGBTQIA+ community think of this book, since it does touch on issues surrounding gender identity and a little on sexuality. It’s not the driving force of the action but it is mentioned more than once and the representation is certainly there. I’m not the right voice to dictate whether that representation is accurate or appropriate so I’ll be on the look out for other opinions.

Put simply, this is an excellent fantasy novel with some lovely unique elements. Bear has set up a world I am eager to read more about, with characters whose fates I genuinely care about. I look forward to seeing what else comes of this trilogy. Also, could there be more dragons? There was some…I need more.

My rating: 4/5 stars

By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

What say you? Do you agree that books are trending towards shorter chapters or is it just me making things up? Let me know in the comments below!


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