Elizabeth Bear can do anything. Space opera? Check. Historical fantasy? Check. Epic fantasy set in a unique world where the sky of each region reflects the spiritual beliefs of the inhabitants? Absolutely.
I just finished The Origin of Storms, the book that completes The Lotus Kingdoms trilogy, which is a wonderful read full of adventure, amazingly drawn characters, and complex political maneuvering. In this last book we finally heard a metaphysical explanation for all the different skies! Really, I don’t want to tell you anything about the plot, because every twist is such a delightful surprise. Let’s just say, it starts with the lone surviving Dead Man, the completely metal but all-too-human Gage, and a prophecy meant for a princess in a far-off and crumbling kingdom where night is day, an elephant picks a holy lotus, and nuns sing constantly in the walls.
Bear handles theme like it’s a silken thread attached to a needle, and all she has to do is dip in and out, in and out, to achieve perfection. It’s extremely difficult to thread theme (in this case, women and how they exercise power in a patriarchal world) throughout a series without sounding preachy or pushing the adventure, the magic, the characters’ growth, or anything else aside — but Bear makes it look so easy!
This book also includes one of the best portrayals of chronic pain I’ve ever read, in the character of Himandra.
Note that this is the second trilogy set in this particular fantasy world, following the Eternal Sky trilogy, but that the Lotus Kingdoms can absolutely be read independently.