The Sea Thy Mistress is the third book in Elizabeth Bear’s The Edda of Burdens series, following on from the end of both of the preceding books (All the Windwracked Stars (post) and By the Mountain Bound (post)). It’s pretty much impossible to talk about this book without some spoilers for the other two, so be warned there are spoilers ahead even for this one.
Both the previous books are stories about the end of the world, whether it be by a bang (BtMB) or a long drawn out whimper (AtWS). The Sea Thy Mistress is about a new beginning, and the tension comes from the vulnerability of the newborn world. At the end of All the Windwracked Stars Muire willing took up the role of Bearer of Burdens and brought life back to the world. But the Lady Heythe has ridden out of the first ending of the world into this new beginning. The world changed while she wasn’t there but she only aims to finish the job she started in By the Mountain Bound.
This story is also Cathoair’s story. With Strifbjorn’s soul but not Strifbjorn’s memories he’s an apt central character for this part of the trilogy. He (and the world) are at root the same as the previous man (world) but he (and the world) is also distinct and his (its) own individual self (world). And I hadn’t thought about it till writing this, but I think there’s a similar resonance for the world & the protagonist of each of the previous books. Muire & the world didn’t quietly give up & die in All the Windwracked Stars, instead they kept on going and even appearing to live despite the despair and/or dying that was concealed inside. I find it harder to articulate how the Wolf and the world match in By the Mountain Bound, but I still feel they do – something about being broken by someone using their very nature against them.
This story might take place a few decades after the end of All the Windwracked Stars, but it’s still a direct sequel. Cathoair hasn’t got over the traumatic events of the end that story. Muire is still gone, Astrid is still dead by his hand. He’s an immortal now – a new angel for a new world, and as such has a purpose and is alive. But he’s not really alive, more going through the motions. That starts to change when he becomes responsible for bringing up his son – Muire was pregnant by Cathoair when she made her sacrifice and the babe has been born and sent back to the living world (the Bearer of Burdens is presumably not a role that meshes well with bringing up even an immortal child).
And it is into this new life that Heythe walks. Of course the reader knows more than the protagonists do about Heythe – except the Wolf, but the Wolf is not trusted by Cathoair. And so Heythe has the cracks and flaws in Cathoair & the world that she needs to drive her wedges in and try to prise it all apart again. But this book is not a tragedy, and this new world is not as fragile as it first seems – there’s genuine hope at the end that the wounds of the last world are healed.
This has been one of my favourite of Bear’s series that I’ve read. I like what she’s done with Norse mythology, and I like the world & the people she’s created to inhabit it. I left it a bit long to write up this book, so I think I’ve forgotten some of the things I wanted to say about it, which is a shame. But I’m sure I’ll re-read it some day 🙂