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The Stone in the Skull

(Lotus Kingdoms #1)

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  875 ratings  ·  185 reviews
The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

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 sorce
Hardcover, 367 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Tor Books
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David W.E. I hadn't read any of her other work, and I wouldn't say you NEED to in order to follow the story - she mostly develops the characters from scratch.
I hadn't read any of her other work, and I wouldn't say you NEED to in order to follow the story - she mostly develops the characters from scratch.
However the world is obviously pretty alien and I found myself a little lost with some of the places/cultures, so maybe starting with the Eternal Sky Trilogy (set in the same universe) would have helped. (less)

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Average rating 3.65  · 
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3.5ish stars

This book has transportive worldbuilding and exquisite descriptions of a unique setting. Some interesting characters are introduced and the stage is set for what seems like it will be a great series. The downside is that the book is almost entirely stage-setting; it hints at great things to come, but doesn't show a lot of greatness in and of itself.

It might be a more fulfilling read for those who are familiar with Bear's Eternal Sky series, with which this book shares a universe. I
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2019-shelf
By the end of this new fantasy of Elizabeth Bear, I was completely under its spell. Like, utterly.

But I really need to be honest here: most of the novel is really slow-paced and focused on slow reveals about the lands as the Gage (a fantasy cyborg) and the Dead Man, a highly-skilled bodyguard, travel in a caravan and we get to know and love them. We also get to know the ruler of their intended destination. And I got to love her, too. :)

The best part of this is not the action but the character de
Stefan Bach
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Who says you need to read series in their chronological reading order?
This book certainly would argue against it.
I had no clue that this book is first in a continuation of the previous trilogy. I haven’t researched it enough (at all) before starting it (because I’m living dangerous = I chose the book by its cover!).
It takes fifty years after the events in the first trilogy with entirely new cast of characters and setting.
Regardless, be mindful of (potential) spoilers for those of you who hav
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2018-release
The Stone in the Skull kicks off strong with a unique and visual scene of a group of mercenaries featuring two of the main characters. Gage is an automaton and the other one? He is called The Dead Man. OK, it got my attention! Then when the setting changes, I honestly became more invested and quickly preferred the perspectives of Sayeh and Mrithuri, two powerful women who are each ruling their own kingdoms. Gotta love a book that features not just one, but two powerful women that can control the ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
OK, yes, this is set in the world of Bear's (highly, highly recommended) Eternal Sky trilogy. But it's set 50 years later and centers around an (almost) entirely new cast of characters, so you don't need to have read the initial trilogy to start here. (But you should. Because the initial trilogy was also very, very good.)

In this case, the setting is the Lotus Kingdoms -- a series of smaller prinicpalities built on the remnants of a larger empire. Into the Kingdoms come the Dead Man (a now-master
Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller
Mini Review: I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lo ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This is a slow burner of a book, more about setting and character development than plot (ahem, not that there isn’t one! It’s setting up for an immense story and we’re just getting those foundations laid). Don’t let that put you off, though, because I think Bear is a master at description - of place, food, people - and world-building. Everything feels utterly real, for all that this is a magical world with automatons and days darker than nights, and I just love spending time in her world. There’ ...more
Jan 18, 2018 added it
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC copy of this book. Sadly I have to say that I simply could not get into it and DNFed it at 25%.

At the beginning of the book we meet Gage, who is an automaton. He is carrying a very important message to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. His creator has long since been gone, which is why Gage is offering his services to others. He and his companion, the Dead Man, are travelling with a caravan, acting as its protectors.
We also meet tw
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
At the moment, there is only one other rating for this title here on Goodreads and it doesn't have a review, so I feel like I should say something, but I'm not thinking of anything that I'm happy with. So...I guess I'll just say that Elizabeth Bear is one of my go-to authors and I have never been disappointed by any of her books. If you enjoy stories that do new and interesting things with mythology and religion and folklore and belief; where neither gender nor sexuality are binary; and where ma ...more
The Stone in the Skull is the start of a sequel trilogy to Bear’s epic fantasy series that began with Range of Ghosts. However, you do not need to be at all familiar with the previous series. The Stone in the Skull takes place over fifty years later and has an almost entirely new cast. It also moves the narrative south to the Lotus Kingdoms, a setting based on pre-colonial India.

Trouble is brewing in the Lotus Kingdoms. What was once a great empire has shattered into principalities ruled by the
The Captain
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .

The first and only book I have read up to this point by Elizabeth Bear was karen memory way back in the days before I had a blog. And I adored it. So when I heard she was releasing the first book in a new trilogy I just had to have it. I starting reading this one in me bunk as day was turning to dusk and I didn’t finish it until night was turning into dawn. No sle
Matthew Galloway
This novel succeeds most with its lush descriptions. I don't think anyone could deny that it has that. The author certainly loves her world building and I found in refreshing that it is based off of something other than the standard European influences. Now, I did not read her prior trilogy and am not sure how much it would tie into this -- other than being set in the same world.

I enjoyed her four main characters well enough, but found it a bit odd that as much as we get to know them, it felt as
Daniel Loudermilk
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
If you’d like to read a book that has details about the details that further inspires details about glass, wood, mud etc, this is the book for you. Past that, there was nothing more about this book. Character development is crucial but it took an entire 300 plus pages to do it? I was happy it was over.
Sep 15, 2019 marked it as dnf
Shelves: 2019, in-czech
DNF @39%

Simply not for me. I would force myself to finish the book if the book followed The Gage and The Dead Man only. Rajni's chapters were boring as hell.
Lynn Williams
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
4.5 of 5 stars
I’m going to start this review by saying that I loved The Stone in the Skull. This is a beautifully written story, truly epic in scope, resplendent with creativity and graced with wonderful characters that you can’t help feeling attached to and caring about.

The story gets off to a breathtaking start and a speedy introduction to two of our main characters. A caravan travelling south across the Steles of the Sky is attacked and only the quick t
Judy Lesley
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This book definitely would have been a five star reading experience for me if the first half of the book had just moved a teensy bit faster. But I was right there with the Dead Man and Gage as they worked their job of protection for a caravan of ice-boats. It never hurts to get paid for doing a job that is taking you to the place you wanted to reach all along. Elizabeth Bear is such a wonderful writer that I even enjoyed the slog of pushing/pulling/hauling boats through ice, snow and mud, even o ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Oct 05, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish
DNF at 26%. My second attempt at this wasn't more interesting than the first. It's very descriptive and slow paced, and by page 100 I wanted to understand the point of the story...but it seemed like it would be mostly setup. ...more
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: maps, fantasy, ebook
“We’re not the heroes of the story. We’re those guys who wander in during the third act to pick up the dirty work.”

A pleasant excursion into a world analogous to southern Asia before the British spoiled the local fun. Don’t read the blurb; it reveals too much backstory about the cauled sun and other phenomena of this world, robbing the reader of wonder and discovery.

“Duty above anything else. And then the lifetime regret for choices untaken.”

Decent character and world building. Enough strands t
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, fantasy
Bear can paint a very detailed picture, but she does so much of it it overshadows her plotting and characters. There is so much languid description, even in what should be high tension (action!) scenes, which saps the drama right out. The story is slow, slow, slow, though it starts to pick up about a hundred pages in (the first hundred pages are worldbuilding exposition).

Despite all that description, it feels like we're told about the plot and characters more than we're shown. So many tags like
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review and others posted over at my blog.

I have no idea how to describe the plot of this book in a succinct way that also makes sense. It’s fantasy, with a touch of steampunk and an Asian feel to the world. The book is heavy on political intrigue and geography, yet the characters are so compelling that two potentially boring (for me, anyway) subjects fell neatly into the background.

I don’t normally refer to maps, but I found the one in this book particularly helpful in giving me a sense
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I find Bear to be a master at bring life to both characters and enviroment. Her imaginative world building is not only rich in detail but also a wealth of language (I admire an author that teaches me new words.)

The Dead Man and the Gage are two warriors the story pivots around. One a refugee from a vanished city and the other a dead wizard's artifact.

The two mercenaries become involved with two kingdoms powerful women. One of whom is Transgender; facing prejudice for not having been born female,
Barb in Maryland
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Yay! 4.5 stars for Bear's return to the world of the Eternal Sky.
The action takes place some years after the previous trilogy(Range of Ghosts, etc). It is not necessary to have read the previous books for the reader to enjoy this action-packed adventure.
I loved our two heroines, each a ruler in her own right, each threatened by outside forces. Our heroes are an unlikely pair--an automaton and an aging warrior, who are bringing 'help' to the younger of the two women. Throw in a wizard or two, an
Nov 24, 2017 rated it liked it
I finished The Stone in the Skull the author is the wife of Scott Lynch.

I liked it, but it's very obviously a book 1 in a series, a ton of set up and loose dangling ends. I liked the world building and I liked all of the characters.

I'm hoping the Dead Man and the Gage get happy endings in later books. It's even mentioned by a wizard that she can give the Gage a human body again.

One huge problem: it felt like a ton of references for lesbian/third gender/gender issues, it felt a bit preach-y to
Jun 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
I usually enjoy fantasy which has an Asian-type setting/world-building and this novel has an interesting setting and characters, but this entire first novel was a set up for the next, with the events happening only at the end. I find I'm not entirely interested in finding out what happens next. ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This return to the world of Steles of the Sky features exotic places and fascinating characters, but it seems like it was 365 pages of setup for the actual story which will presumably get started in the next book.

There are some really interesting pieces being carefully placed on the chessboard - A Dead Man, a young queen, a wizard-created metal creature that was once human, a third-sex ruler who has a child by divine intervention, a strong-willed young cliff-diver, a mostly-dead saint, several w
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
I suspect I screwed up by not reading the previous series, this book feels more like a continuation than a first in a series. Second it suffers a bit from generic Asian background disease, bits of Indian and Chinese culture are scattered through the book but the feel artificial and disconnected. I felt the author could have wiped the various names for items and created her own world just as easily, there's just not that much there. Finally near the end there are several sudden romances and other ...more
Claudia Putnam
Dec 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
My first Bear. Not a bad writer. Some inconsistencies as to how the sky was described... sometimes the eclipsed sun is set and that leaves sky lit by stars and thus brighter, and other times the sun is floating in the night sky, which makes no sense. Anyway, some interesting characters, overall nice worldbuilding... I'd read other works by this author. ...more
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Game of Thrones with bad acting and writing.

Rich world building, gorgeous prose, beautiful landscape, and complex characters are great but without a plot and weak dialogue the story went nowhere fast.
Great opening scene fighting the Wyrm, that was all for the action scenes.

Action scenes don't need swords and dragons. Cersie Lannister arguing with Jamie. Jon Snow pleading with Daenerys Targaryenare to fight along side him are great action scenes. That's what this book was sorely lacking.

"The oxen
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Eric by: Brandon Kempf
Shelves: fantasy, audiobooks
On one hand, I am glad I read this. It was exceptionally well written, and the plot, characters and setting were all different enough from standard fantasy to feel fresh and modern. I loved the strong female characters, and especially loved the automaton Gage. On the other hand, my personal preference is for fantasy that moves at a much more breakneck adventure pace, and there was very little action to be found in this first volume. I also prefer a story from one point-of-view, and this switched ...more
May 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I will read more of Elizabeth Bear based on this book. I liked it enough to pre-order the sequel.

It is not fast paced. The gradual progression of things was difficult at times. On the other hand it`s a book where everything feels thoroughly considered and deliberate. The world feels like a real place and the cultures feel like real cultures. It is all crafted and well planned. The characters become increasingly compelling in the course of the book, and the suspense of the undercurrent of impendi
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