All the Windwracked Stars is the first book in the EDDA OF BURDENS trilogy by fantasy and SF author Elizabeth Bear. The novel is a very original blend of fantasy, science fiction, steampunk and mythology, and while it has some weaknesses, its originality sets it apart in a genre that’s all too often filled with cookie-cutter material.
Surprisingly, All the Windwracked Stars actually begins with Ragnarok, the final battle between the Children of the Light and the Tarnished. Muire, a waelcyrge (valkyrie) is one of the only survivors, together with Kasimir, another valkyrie’s wounded valraven, who (in a sign of things to come) is transformed from his old two-headed, winged horse form into a more steampunk-ish guise.
Fast forward more than two millennia, to a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity only has one semi-viable city left. Eiledon is ruled by the Technomancer, who lives in a university/fortress floating above the city, and enforces her rule over the general population with a force of “unmans” (animal/human hybrids). Early in the novel, Muire learns that Mingan the Wolf is still stalking the world, and that the Technomancer’s goals may not be entirely benevolent.
All the Windwracked Stars is a challenging but ultimately rewarding novel — challenging, because it takes a good 200 pages before the plot really emerges. Until that happens, you’re reading a novel set in a world that’s so unique it can be confusing, populated by characters that are extremely hard to connect with, especially in the first handful of chapters. The original setting, combined with Elizabeth Bear‘s beautiful prose, will carry patient readers to the point where the story really takes off, but it’s hard not to feel that this novel could have been more accessible.
Regardless of this, All the Windwracked Stars is amazingly successful at combining mythology and science fiction in an intriguing and unique way. If you are interested in Norse mythology, and your tolerance for challenging reads is high, this book will deliver for you in spades.