The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear
The Origin of Storms (2022) is Elizabeth Bear’s mostly satisfying conclusion to her generally excellent LOTUS KINGDOM’s trilogy, continuing the prior books’ strengths of strong characterization and sharp social commentary. Spoilers to follow for books one (The Stone in the Skull) and two (The Red-Stained Wings).
After the events of the first two books, Rajni Mrithuri is now the Dowager Empress, ruler of conjoined kingdoms and the person with the strongest claim to the Alchemical Throne (though she has yet to risk sitting on it). That said, she has no guarantee that the soldiers of her now dead enemy Anuraja will recognize her authority. Besides the immediate issue of a still potentially hostile army on her doorstep, Mrithuri needs that army for the larger war being waged against a mysterious “Beast” and its two necromancer agents. Not to mention a possible second civil war with Himadra, who may seek to rule himself.
Luckily, Mrithuri has a number of allies — Sayeh Rajni, one-time ruler of a now-devastated land; the mercenary Dead Man (also husband to Mrithuri) and his partner, the metalman Gage; the wizards Ata Khimah and Tseringla; Hnarisha, Mrithuri’s secretary with her own set of skills; Nazia, Tsering-la’s apprentice; the poet Ümmühan; the “undead Godmade” Nizhvashiti, and Golbahar; and the ancient dragon Kyrlmyrandal. And maybe some unexpected ones as well.
The early going catches the reader up on past events effectively and efficiently, if at a few times it’s a little blunt. We’re reintroduced to the characters and their situations and then they’re all moved into their places — geographically or in terms of alliances and relationships — as the story moves outward from the kingdom-focused politics to the more existential threat of the Beast.
For the most part, as the story shifts smoothly amongst the several points of view, the narrative is well balanced between moments of tension, action scenes, and quieter interludes either between a pair of characters or within a single character’s musing mind. The one exception to this, and to be honest it was a significant one, is the final battle, which to my mind went on far too long, somewhat tainting the whole-book experience given it’s the closing section. YMMV.
Characterization, as has been the case throughout the series, is a particular asset, thanks to both depth and breadth, as pretty much all the characters are presented as fully fleshed out people (or dragons), full of complex desires, foibles, and strengths. Relationships, whether intimate or platonic, are all well-handled, realistic and mature.
As with the other books, Bear here casts a sharp eye on matters of gender, sexuality, class, politics, and society. One has a sense, for instance, of some movement away from traditional monarchy as several discussions arise with regard to “arrang[ing] things so that the power would be distributed up more widely.” Meanwhile, gender roles are often criticized, as when Sayeh thinks “most women’s lives would be better for a little less marrying and a little more choice” or when the Gage considers how “women worked toward incremental change and gain, because they were systematically kept from the positions where they could order a sweeping reform.” While sometimes such commentary is a bit too “on the nose” as I wrote in the margin beside one such example, that’s a small price to pay for the way in which such depth enhances the reading experience.
I said in my review of book two that I would be curious if I’d think Bear needed three books for this story once I read book three, and now having done so, I do think a duology would be offered up a tighter, stronger, more powerful narrative. But that view is certainly debatable. As it is, despite the pacing issues that crop up, I’d still recommend this series, as well as the earlier ETERNAL SKY trilogy, set in the same world.
I'm coming off a week of less than satisfying reads, including Kate Elliott's Furious Heaven (exciting but eventually wearying tale…
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
Thanks for the reviews you two. I put the book on my TBR as soon as I saw ads for…
We seem to be on the same page. Yeah, the depiction of some (at least two) of the women characters…
The correct and more accurate term for the book thing is "challenged," I think. Frankly, the intentional removal of books…