Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Third-sex/trans MC, disabled MC, South Asian-coded setting and cast
PoV: 3rd person past tense, multiple PoVs
Published on: 28th June 2022
Hugo Award-winning author Elizabeth Bear returns with the stunning conclusion to her acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy, the Lotus Kingdoms.
The Lotus Kingdoms are at war, with four claimants to the sorcerous throne of the Alchemical Emperor, fielding three armies between them. Alliances are made, and broken, many times over—but in the end, only one can sit on the throne. And that one must have not only the power, but the rightful claim.
The Rajni Mrithuri stands as the chief claimant to the Alchemical throne now, but she and her empire remain a prize to be taken unless she gets an heir. She has her allies--her cousin Sayeh, a dragon, a foreign wizard, a fearsome automaton, and the Dead Man--but the throne has the final say. And if it rejects her, the price is death.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~blind dragons are still badass
~literal bookworms contribute to empire
~goddesses are rarely what you expect
~wearing a crown is almost as complicated as claiming it
*Spoilers for The Bone in the Skull and The Red-Stained Wings!*
To be honest, the ending ruined it for me.
The first two thirds of Origin of Storms cover Mrithuri, Sayeh and the rest working to consolidate Mrithuri’s unexpected empire. It’s definitely slow to get moving, but something about the rhythm and cadence of the prose made it surprisingly readable and oddly soothing. It was easy to drift along with, enjoyably. It involved more military logistics than political manouvering, but there was manouvering, and it was sneaky and clever and well-done.
Even moreso than the rest of the trilogy, Origin of Storms is very much a book about women: royal women, noble women, educated women, loyal women, servant women, holy women. It’s about the restrictions placed on women – especially those who want to hold power that men will respect – and how to move within those restrictions to get what you want (or as close to what you want as can be managed). It’s about the nature of feminine power, which can’t look like power at all if you want to get things done. It’s about being women playing the traditionally-male game of kingdoms and thrones. It’s about how hard that is.
And it is very, very much about women – all kinds of women – working together.
One of the things that made me happiest about Origin is that Sayeh – who is third-sex, and identifies and presents as a woman – is never left out of this. Her place among the rest of the women is never even up for debate, is never questioned. Of course she’s one of them. She’s a vital and valued member of the sisterhood. Which is something that would make me happy no matter when this book was coming out, but it feels particularly important – and powerful – right at this moment, when so much transphobia is running rampant in the USA and UK.
But the last third or quarter of the book ruined the entire trilogy for me.
Look: in book one, we had glimpses of a creepy sorcerer, who might be genderfluid or might be two people, it was unclear. In book two, we had a few more glimpses of this character (or pair of characters), enough to make it clear they were up to something capital-b Bad, but not enough to know what exactly they were doing, and no clue at all as to why they were doing it. Also in book two, there were a handful of references to ‘beasts which feed on war’, which read to me like gnomic utterances, or at best a kind of metaphor for the sort of people who enjoy violence and chaos.
Spoiler: it was not a metaphor. Out of absolutely nowhere, it is suddenly announced that there is a literal beast and our beloved cast must defeat it in what I will allow is a hugely cinematic Final Battle.
What is the beast called? We don’t know. Where does it come from? We don’t know. What are its powers? We don’t know. What does it want? We don’t know.
What the fuck?
We don’t know.
And I mean, the characters themselves say this! It’s stated on-page that noone knows anything – there’s just some guesses. Which kind of feels like Bear admitting to the reader that she put almost no thought (or groundwork) into this at all, but is rolling with it anyway because…Well, because Reasons, I guess.
So for me, the big epic climax was frustrating as hell, because the Big Bad effectively came out of nowhere, at the very last minute, without even an attempt at an explanation. And that is not a thing I enjoy, no matter how cinematic you make it.
I really, really wish the Beast had been kept out of it – there was plenty going on, and more than enough to resolve, without it. Armies! Politicking! Alliances! Claiming the Peacock Throne! The secret behind the throne’s power! A dragon!!! Tossing the Beast in as well was messy and lazy, and if you were going to do it, you should have been laying so much more groundwork for it in the previous books.
Vital reading for fans of the trilogy, but nonetheless a let-down.