Hello, my darlings! Today I’m reviewing Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars, a Sci Fi Essential book that (gasp!) was actually sent to us by the good people at Tor all unexpectedly. This is awesome because guess what? It’s wicked cool that they, uh, even KNOW about Hathor, let alone are into us giving our thoughts on their ish.
On to the plot. Muire is over 2000 years old. She’s an angel of the avenging Nordic type, but she fled the show-down between good and evil, because she is the youngest, the historian, and a bit of a fraidy-cat. Kasimir, one of the two-headed battle-steeds favored by her sistren and brethren, chooses her as his rider, but she’s so overcome with guilt that she refuses to work with him, and instead wanders the earth, composing poetry, histories, and great works of stone art. SHE IS BEAUTIFULLY AND SELF SACRIFICINGLY ALONE.
Mingan, the Gray Wolf, also choose not to attend the battle. He’s not a coward, tho, he’s just a TRAITOR. He told both sides he’d show, and his presence would’ve turned the battle either way. But it didn’t, the apocalypse happened on a spiritual level, and the world has limped on, declining a little more every year. Now only one city is left. Muire’s presence has been helping to maintain its shields against the massive nuclear wasteland that IS the OUTSIDE WORLD (it’s multilayered story-telling, because they need to MAINTAIN their sheilds to live, but she needs to drop her EMOTIONAL ones to be TRULY ALIVE — dig it!), but Gray Wolf has come upon some awful revelations that suggest that the magic keeping the city livable is based upon an awful abomination. He’s got no love for the Light, but he’s been waiting for the end of the world for too long to see it put off because of someone’s decided to cannibalize the souls of avenging angels. Add to the mix the gradual (and unknowing!) rebirth of Muire and Mingan’s comrades and lovers, and it starts to look like the end of the world isn’t QUITE nigh.
Reasons this ish is awesome:
1. WAY TO BREAK OUT OF THE CELTIC MYTH TRAP! Bear rocks it with the Norse mythology, the avenging angels, and the runes. There’s not a fiery redhead to be seen, which is SO refreshing in a world where most apocalyptic-the-magic-is-dying SF/fantasy acts like only the Celts ever spun a good yarn.
2. The careful merging of the tech with the magic – technomancy emerges as a real field of study, far extending the existing conventions of most steampunk fantasies. I’m talking magic and GENETIC MUTATIONS, y’all, including engineered flus, an evolving social caste system, and unman cat police officers!
3. A fair portrayal of bisexuality that’s NOT explicitly linked to polyamory… plus, a fair depiction of polyamory that’s NOT explicitly linked to bisexuality. The family Cahey makes is very much about love and lust, but it’s as stable/fidelitious as it can be given the lifestyle him, Astrid, and Aethelred are forced into.
4. Ambiguous heroines! Muire’s deep emotional conflict and tender nature are carefully revealed, in a fashion that reflects that she’s, um, 2000+ years old. She remains untarnished, but that’s as much because she’s kept herself emotionally isolated as it is that she’s a good angel. <3 She’s such a youngest.