Lotus Petals: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

With The Stone in the Skull Elizabeth Bear returns to the world of the Eternal Sky for another grand tale. The previous novels set in this universe—Range of Ghosts (reviewed here), Shattered Pillars (reviewed here), and Steles of the Sky (reviewed here)—followed a band of royal and not-so-royal individuals through their efforts to consolidate kingdoms and prevent a vast evil from overtaking their world.  The same general formula returns in The Stone in the Skull but the setting and the cast are quite different: our protagonists are a Gage, a Dead Man, one young rajni and another middle-aged.

The Gage and the Dead Man are traveling through contested territories in the Lotus Kingdoms—once a grand empire, now a set of smaller sometimes-warring states—with a message from the Eyeless One, a great wizard in Messaline. Arriving lands them in the middle of a war between four branches ...