All the Windwracked Stars
by Elizabeth Bear
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318824
Date: 28 October 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
According to Norse mythology, the end of days is Ragnarok, a great battle when most of the gods die and the world is drowned. After it, the survivors meet, and two humans repopulate the world. Versions of the tale vary, which is perhaps enough to give Elizabeth Bear license for All the Windwracked Stars.
According to her, Ragnarok and the death of Odin were long past when the children of Light, or angels, armed with crystal swords and bearing names such as Strifbjorn and Arngeir, met those fallen to the shadow, the tarnished, amid the ice and snow of the far north. There they slew each other until only Muire, who had fled the scene, was left to regret her cowardice and bury the dead beneath boulders. A steed, a valraven named Kasimir, with the wings of an eagle and two heads, one of a stag and one of an antelope, also survived, and when he found Muire, they bonded. When the world cracked to ooze metal, he was transformed into, he said, the future. He was a hot metal skin covering power enough to shock and awe an army. When Muire named him, he added, he would come. And he flew off.
Muire continued to comb the field of battle, gathering the fallen, even the tarnished. She did not, however, find the Gray Wolf, only his sword Svanvitr.
Twenty-three hundred years later, humanity has risen, created a technological civilization, and all but destroyed itself. Only one city, Eiledon, is left, supported by technomancy. To it comes the Gray Wolf, who kills with a kiss, sucking out his victim's soul. Here too is Muire, less angelic now but still willing to search for a killer of innocents. As she searches, she comes to recognize in the faces of those around her the souls of ancient kin. They do not remember who they once were, but they are incarnated indeed, as if arrived to fight the last last battle.
Besides knowledge, they also lack their ancient swords. If Muire can find a way to arm them, if she can find a way to defeat stasis, then perhaps she can use the unknown eighteenth rune, which she has seen carved on the flank of frozen Yggdrasil, and revivify the world.
Elizabeth Bear herself has her hands on that rune. With this book she makes a bid to revivify the world of fantasy. If she succeeds we may soon see the long-awaited end of Tolkienesque quests, elves, and dragons.
This one's a treasure, and so is its author. Long may she write!