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Thank you to Tor for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! The Red-Stained Wings will be released on May 28th, 2019. 

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It seems to me that the difference between a good ruler and a bad ruler is not always what they choose to do. Sometimes it is how – and why – they choose to do it, and whether they justify it to themselves.

The Red-Stained Wings is a delightful follow-up to Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull. While my one complaint from the previous book still stands (LET ME SEE THE GAGE FIGHT dangit!), I was enthralled by the new events and plot points introduced in The Red-Stained Wings. Bear’s prose and worldbuilding is stellar as always, and it’s a joy to see characters you’ve been following for 500-odd pages across two books meet up and finally interact.

The scale of political upheaval has also expanded – rather than being grounded in the mundane aspects of human life and death, the mythos and gods of the world are now becoming properly involved. Each god claims a land as its demesne, supplying it with suns, weather, and life. Is there a gentle sun and a bright trail of stars? Perhaps three suns, one harsh, one mild, and one quick? Or do you stare into a godless abyss? A rajni’s role in worshipping her gods suddenly seems much more important. My respect and concern for both Mirthuri and Sayeh as the rightful daughters of the Alchemical Emperor has shot way up. 

There was no Cauled Sun in the sky, no Heavenly River spooling its brightness across the firmament. There was blackness, and the blackness was picked out in little stars that shone with a cold silver light that cast no shadows but made everything seem as flat and foreign as cut paper shapes layered on a canvas.

Nizvashiti let its head fall back on its emaciated neck, staring blindly upward. “This is a dead sky.”

While I’m typically not a fan of “villain” POVs in novels, I enjoyed reading Himadra’s chapters much more than I would have guessed. It almost made me a bit angry – Himadra is supposed to be the antagonist, yet here I was sympathizing with him and genuinely liking him. Called “The Boneless,” Himadra suffers from a debilitating condition that did not allow his bones or muscles to develop properly. Himadra relies on his skills as a politician, negotiator, and leader to move throughout the political landscape. As the novel progresses, however, it becomes increasingly clear that although Himadra has his own motivations, he’s also being played as a pawn by much larger forces. Himadra and Sayeh, on opposite sides of a war, raise moral questions regarding how a ruler should behave.

The Gage is off on his own quest, seeking an ancient artifact in the dead and poisoned city of dragons. Finally, he has the chance to come forward and make judgments independent of other characters – some of them questionable or challenging. While I do desperately want to see the Gage in a war setting, I do have to admit that the character development and depth here was much, much more satisfying even than a good battle. 

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/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Disability (hard mode), AI Character (hard mode), #Ownvoicess

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?

Let me know in the comments below!