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All the Windwracked Stars    by Elizabeth Bear order for
All the Windwracked Stars
by Elizabeth Bear
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

'In the beginning was the end of the world'. Muire is a Valkyrie, Child of the Light, a defender of the world from the forces of darkness. But on the Last Day, when her brothers and sisters waged war against the Tarnished, Muire did not stand and fight - she ran. Now she is the last of the Valkyrie, alone and ashamed. Kasimir is a Valraven, a great, two-headed steed of the Valkyrie, whose name is known only to his rider. He too saw the Children of the Light slaughtered, keeping watch over his rider until she perished. He believes he is alone, until he finds Muire and demands that she choose to live. Realizing her courage, despite her grief, Kasimir reveals his name to her, bonding them as horse and rider. Muire, however, cannot see past her despair and rejects him. He honors her choice and leaves her, but promises that when she needs him, he will come.

Two thousand years later, the world is ending again. Muire lives in Eiledon, the last surviving city. Eiledon has been sheltered from destruction by the Technomancer, a woman who uses magic and technology to save the city from collapse. But her magic is waning and Muire senses that the end is near. As the waits for the city to die, she begins to sense something else - the Grey Wolf, old nemesis of the Valkyrie, has returned, leaving death in his path. Muire decides to kill the Wolf and summons Kasimir to her, finally admitting she needs his help. As they track the Wolf, they encounter another shock - the souls of their dead brothers and sisters of the Light, reborn into human bodies in Eiledon. As they seek to understand the reasons for the reappearance of their loved ones, the truth behind the Technomancer's magic is revealed and Muire must make a heartbreaking decision, a decision that holds the fate of the world.

All the Windwracked Stars is not an easy read, but it is highly rewarding. Using Norse mythology as her base, Elizabeth Bear introduces readers to a cast of widely varied characters, each struggling with pain and heartbreak. After the initial chapter, Bear immediately moves the story two thousand years into the future, which can leave the reader feeling somewhat lost. Additionally, the nonlinear narrative is at times difficult to follow, requiring persistence and careful reading. However, the final third of the book brings the payoff, and it is fully worth the effort the reader has invested. Bear's characers come alive when they are finally brought together, and by the end each holds a special place in the reader's heart.

Woven through the novel is the theme of slavery versus service, the difference between being enslaved and being allowed to choose to serve. Each of Bear's characters struggles with feelings of enslavement and must work out the difference for themselves. Because it is set in a dying world, the novel has a very bleak tone, and does not give the reader a happily-ever-after ending. What it does deliver is a dense, complex tale of sorrow and redemption that will not be soon forgotten. As this was the first novel of a projected trilogy, I can't imagine where Elizabeth Bear is going to take us next, but I will certainly be along for the ride!

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