The metaphors sparkle, the descriptions are pithy and poetic, the charcters complex and deep, and i have only the veriest idea of what the heck is ongoing here.
I mean, i have only been reading voraciously for 55 years here, mostly SF & F and history, and only Bear's clarity of prose keeps me from being totally lost.. I got through the Amber Pentology, it took two times, but this makes that look pretty damn male pattern simple. If i had the Morte d'Arthur memorized, with emphasis on the geneology, i could get maybe the first layer of subtle interplays. If i had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Species of Faerie, Childe Ballads, and Gaelic, that would help too.
One thing i did notice, is that most authors load all the flashy stuff in the first few chapters and then coast to the end. Not Bear. This book shines all the way through.
And i have been sent a selection of new Fantasy by an expert, and this book is so far above that it's not even close. I read the Kushner, and four or five more, like Hetley and Novik, and those are like comic books compared to this.. If there is a sub-culture that understands all this in depth, then i feel very old all of a sudden.
And if Bear doesn't win the Nebula and Hugo before she is forty, there ain't no justice. Shit, she ought to win a Nobel.
And i don't want to sound like i don't like this book. I do, it's wonderful. But i think i need to read something simple to rest my head.. The Demolished Man, perhaps. Yeah... Lyonesse, by Vance..A nice 500 page WWI history, or a snappy book about the harem politics of the Byzantine Empire.. I'm wore'ed out..
What a great book.