Book Review: Beneath a Stone Sky
Beneath a Stone Sky, book 3 in the Books of Binding urban fantasy series is a thrilling adventure from beginning to end. Once again, the trio that make up A. E. Lowan (Jennifer, Jessica, and Kristin) have outdone themselves with a story that builds the tension until a dramatic and explosive end.
The tale begins with two dozen dwarves invading Winter Mulcahy’s home (it is a friendly, if a bit raucous, invasion). Winter and her companions and lovers – Etienne Knight, Cian, and Alerich Ashimar, are trying to settle into their new living arrangements and the rowdy dwarves are sure to create chaos, but not in a way that Winter and the others can foresee. Soon enough Etienne and Cian leave for faerie on a mission to Summer Splendor to assist the dwarves. Winter is also approached by an old enemy with a request that soon takes her into faerie as well, leaving Alerich behind to deal with the preternatural politics in the city of Seahaven. The action and tension quickly grow from these small beginnings until Seahaven’s fragile diplomacy is threatened to be (literally) torn apart, and war between the dwarves and sidhe looms on the horizon.
This story filled me with so many emotions such that from chapter to chapter, and scene to scene I would laugh aloud, be anxious and nervous for what was to happen next, and be exultant and happy as obstacles were overcome. This is a story that seems to head off into three unrelated directions and is then brought back to a satisfying and dynamic conclusion. So much happens and so many things change, for the characters and for the worlds, that I really don’t know what the authors have in mind for the next book. And I am really excited to see what that will be.
As usual there is some create character development and growth going on in this book, not only with Winter, Cian, Etienne, and Alerich, but also with many of the secondary characters – Jessie and Brian to name just two. And we are introduced to so many new characters as well as meeting characters from earlier books. One of the things I like about this book, and this series, is that alliances and the idea of friends and enemies, good and bad, are so dynamic and fluid. Someone who may have been an enemy in book one is now helping to defeat a different enemy, while someone who aided a character before is now stabbing you in the back. This is a level of realism to this series that I really enjoy seeing because we all know that the real world is rarely black and white.
Another thing that I really love about Beneath a Stone Sky is the many new locations we get to experience. While the majority of the previous books (Faerie Rising and Ties of Blood and Bone) primarily took place in and around Seahaven, a large part of book three takes place in the magical lands of faerie. We get to experience the eternal summer of Summer Splendor, and the misty twilight of Brittle Keep much more in this book, But, we also get to see the Kingdom of the Seven Mountains – the dwarven lands, and let me tell you, this is a dwarven civilization that would rival any of the great dwarven cities that Tolkien hints at in Middle Earth. To get to see the characters interacting with these locations added so many new layers to the great world-building that the authors have already done for this series.
Finally, and hopefully without any spoilers, the story itself was just fantastic. Do not panic at the size of this book (it weighs in at a big boi size of 636 pages) but the excellent pacing and structure makes it so that you eat up pages as if they were candy. Part of the size is the need to follow not only the three main plots with Winter, Etienne and Cian, and Alerich, but also the smaller sub-plots. Each of these are expertly interwoven so that you continue to turn the pages because you want to know what happens next. And in the end, everything is drawn together in a climactic battle that, honestly, puts the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit to shame. So much happens but I never felt lost and I was never disappointed because each character was given their time to shine and to show you what they could do.
Overall, I believe that Beneath a Stone Sky is the best book that A.E. Lowan has written for this series. It is filled with characters that I love and care about, and a story that draws me in and will not let me go. This is a book, and a series, that sets a new standard for what an urban fantasy story should be.