Review of Beneath a Brass Sky

So last month I mentioned that fellow author Eli Steele had put out a new story called Beneath a Brass Sky. I finally had time to sit down and read it, and let me just say that the book blew me away! If you have a chance you should check it out, the story reads like Cormac McCarthy without all the pretentiousness:

Beneath a Brass Sky by Eli Steele

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tamarisks and amaranth clustered around shallow depressions where maybe water once pooled. Maybe one day it would again. Or maybe they too would pale away. Here began a land of dead and dying things.

I don’t often have trouble describing a book that I’ve read in concrete terms, but for weeks now I’ve grappled with how exactly to put my thoughts about Beneath a Brass Sky into words. Was this literary fiction written with a brush of fantasy to it, or a fantasy novel written as an ode to the lyrical roots from whence the genre came? Was this a low-fantasy western without the guns, or a high-fantasy epic told so subtly that its magic and mysticism were but a hint upon a breeze that had already passed me by? Was this a good book? Was it enjoyable? Did it leave me changed in small ways that I’m only just beginning to comprehend?

Actually, I can answer those last three, because the answer to all of them is one and the same: Yes, yes, and yes.

This is the story of the mercenary Ulfric Halehorn, twice a deserter and far from the lands of his birth, and yet this story isn’t about him. This is the story of Spero, a banker who is both more and less than he seems, who tasks Ulfric’s company with transporting the bank’s interests across the great and savage Brasslands—but this story isn’t really about him, either. This is the story of the Huntsman, a peacekeeper who is the most dangerous, terrible thing in the world: an evil man who believes himself righteous. Though the story isn’t really about him either, of course.

Rather, this is a story where the journey is as important as the destination, and world itself is as much a character as those that live their lives upon its surface. The Brasslands, which appear modeled much after Africa and the Middle East here in our own world, have a personality that despite their inspiration is entirely their own, one that changes from moment to moment, page to page. Be it endless wastes of sand, or fields of fire and smoke, or places where short grasses and hyenas play, this is a world that felt as vibrant and real as the people crossing it.

And the characters truly were vibrant. Halehorn is driven by his past decisions, haunted by the tragedies that he’s witnessed, and guilt-ridden by the choices he did or didn’t make. With each step in their journey, some of his history or personality was peeled back, revealing another layer, and I was always eager to see what the next turn or bend brought for him and Spero. Sometimes danger, sometimes revelation, and sometimes—all too rarely—a bit of joy.

In the end, this book was not at all what I expected when I picked it up, but I’m so glad I did. It was dark, and brooding, and at times forced me to look at the most depraved aspects of humanity. Yet I wouldn’t give up that journey for anything in the world. This is a book for lovers of fantasy who demand more out of their stories than simply heroes and magics and warring nations. For while all those things are present here, they are subtler, more refined, more… real.

This is fantasy as I imagine Cormac McCarthy might write, though thankfully lighter on the symbolism and the endless description. Steele is not McCarthy; thankfully he is his own thing entirely, and his book is literary fantasy as I want it to be. This is a story of tragedy and triumph, of death and life and rebirth. This is is the tale of what it means to be Beneath a Brass Sky.

Where prayers go unanswered, and cries go unheard, and people deserve better, but never is it so.

My Current TBR Pile

So I know things have been quiet around here since Fatedancer launched. Part of that has just been me trying to catch back up on projects I left hanging to handle all of the aspects of publishing and promotion (like, you know, actually writing the next Bulletproof Witch book), but some of it has also been getting through the pile of books that I picked up on release day, had been planning to read, or stumbled across and sounded interesting. Here’s what my TBR pile looks like at the moment:

  1. Beneath a Brass Sky by Eli Steele
  2. Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
  3. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrel Drake
  4. Blood and Steel by Seymour Zeynalli
  5. Six-Gun Tarot by RS Belcher
  6. Volsyng by Set Sytes
  7. Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence
  8. Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhter
  9. The Brightest Shadow by Sarah Lin
  10. A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

Not gonna lie, I’ll probably DNF on a few of those (I’m rather picky about what I read, so if something doesn’t hold my interest I tend to move on) but for the moment I’m optimistic about the pile. Even though I’d like to get through these before 2020 ends (and a whole new slew of books starts coming out) that’s not going to happen unless I quit my day job and become a full-time reader.

Pity. That sounds like the perfect job, actually.

Map of Saint Orak City

Thought I’d share a preview of one of the maps from Fatedancer today. Most of the story takes place in or around the city of Saint Orak, which is one of the most populated locations on the planet (Equivalent to NYC).

The map itself was quite an undertaking, and took close to seven hours to complete, since most of those building had to be placed in one at a time. Still, I think it was quite worth it—the whole thing really has a real-city feel to it, which hopefully transfers to the book as well.

As you can see in the image below, the city is quite dense right up to the walls, after which there is little in the way of civilization shown. While there are towns and other settlements that lie outside the walls, due to the constantly respawning monsters that are common both inside and outside the walls, most of humanity tends to favor defensiveness in their building choices. Thus, even farms out in the wilderness will usually have fences and armed patrols around their perimeters.

Inside Saint Orak itself, a plethora of guilds work collaboratively (sometimes) to keep the resident monster populations in check. This means that most citizens can live their lives in relative safety, but rarely venture outside the walls. When travel is required, going by sea is typically the preferred method, since monster incursions are usually far less frequent.

The city is divided into seven districts, although their borders and names tend to fluctuate over time. Trenches and Waydowns remain the poorest districts in the city, while Heights exists almost as a city-within-a-city, allowing the wealthier citizens to stay as near to the city’s best protections against monster attacks as possible.