Skip to Main Content

Speaking Bones


About The Book

The battle continues in this silkpunk fantasy as science and destiny collide against the will of the gods in this final installment in the epic Dandelion Dynasty series from the “genius” (Elizabeth Bear, Hugo Award­–winning author of the Eternal Sky series) Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award–winning author Ken Liu.

The concluding book of The Dandelion Dynasty begins immediately after the events of The Veiled Throne, in the middle of two wars on two lands among three people separated by an ocean yet held together by the invisible strands of love.

Harried by Lyucu pursuers, Princess Théra and Pékyu Takval try to reestablish an ancestral dream even as their hearts grow in doubt. The people of Dara continue to struggle against the genocidal Lyucu as both nations vacillate between starkly contrasting visions for their futures. Even the gods cannot see through the Wall of Storms, for only mortal hearts can decide mortal fates.

Award-winning author Ken Liu fulfills the covenants first laid out a decade ago in a series delving deep into the connection between national myths and national constitutions in this “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR).


Chapter One: Back in the Flow CHAPTER ONE BACK IN THE FLOW

For much of the winter and spring, the last remnants of the rebels of Kiri Valley lived in constant fear.

They would find some hidden valley on the western side of the World’s Edge Mountains and make camp, careful to mask smoke, middens, noise, and other signs of their presence. But a few days later the pursuing garinafins of the Lyucu would be sighted in the sky to the south, and they would have to pack up and be on the run again.

Tipo Tho, with her newborn son strapped to her chest, suggested several times that perhaps the group should attempt to scale the massive peaks to the east and cross over the mountain range, but most of the surviving Agon warriors strenuously objected to the plan. To cross the mountains was to move into the realm of the gods, and that was simply something mortals did not do.

“But that is also why we would be safe,” Tipo said. “Cudyu wouldn’t think of chasing us beyond the mountains either.”

The other surviving Dara fighters nodded. This seemed the most obvious choice.

But Takval and his warriors looked at her as though she were babbling nonsense.

“Look at how tall the mountains are,” said Takval, pointing to the snow-capped peaks. They were about halfway up one of the mountains, and already everyone was shivering and having trouble breathing. “The cold gets worse the higher we go, and Alkir can’t fly that high.”

“We can make the crossing on foot,” said Çami Phithadapu. “There are ways to keep everyone warm. We can come up with some plan—”

The old shaman Adyulek swore and walked away, disgusted.

“With all due respect, I don’t think this is the best time for Dara to be suggesting any more changes to the ways of the Agon,” said Gozofin.

Tipo, Çami, and the others held their tongues. After the disaster at Kiri Valley, the reputation of the Dara allies among the Agon was in tatters. Takval’s people blamed Théra for pushing them to farm instead of pasturing and hunting, for putting their trust in weapons enhanced with Dara magic instead of the known ways of the Agon, for insisting on delaying the attack until the Lyucu had returned to Taten instead of following Volyu’s original suggestion of a quick strike at Aluro’s Basin…. Among the people of the scrublands, the only argument that ultimately swayed was victory in war. And since Théra had been responsible for the greatest defeat of the Agon since the death of Pékyu Nobo Aragoz, everything she had pushed for was worthless.

And so, as spring came to the mountains, they continued to meander north, following no clear plan beyond survival.

While the rest of the Dara survivors seethed at what they saw as the unjust treatment of their princess, Théra was unperturbed.

More accurately, she remained in the near-catatonic state she had fallen into after the loss of Kunilu-tika and Jian-tika. Most of her waking hours were spent fingering the bag of baked clay logogram playing blocks and an old silk mask with an edging of embroidered tolyusa berries, so worn that it was nearly in tatters. She made no suggestions and gave no orders; she obeyed whatever instructions were given to her docilely; the very act of survival seemed to her a burden more than she could bear.

Takval, though weighed down with the responsibility of keeping the small band alive by himself, never stopped trying to help Théra. He held her in their tent and spoke to her of his love and need, even if she never responded. He asked Adyulek to intercede with the gods on Théra’s behalf, but the old shaman shook her head, explaining that there wasn’t much she could do when the princess had neither trust in nor fear of the gods of Gondé.

“She isn’t Agon, and she’s too proud to accept our wisdom,” said Adyulek. “Perhaps because it’s rare among her people to lose children, she lacks the inborn strength to recover from such a blow. Leave her to her deserved suffering—she is, after all, responsible for our plight with her obduracy.”

Takval didn’t agree with this assessment, but he could hardly compel the old shaman to put aside her suspicion and prejudice. In the end, he asked Thoryo to become Théra’s caretaker, hoping that the originless young woman with a gift for speech could offer some comfort to Théra in the accents of Dara.

So Thoryo spent all her time with the princess. She fed her, bathed her, sang to her quietly, and strapped her into the netting on the garinafin, next to herself, when the band needed to take flight again.

She also talked to Théra. She didn’t speak to her of strategies and plots, of plans and grand ideals. She simply took her to quiet clearings in the mountainside forests, where spring alpine flowers bloomed in all their finery, or to cliffside overlooks at sunset, when birds swooped through crimson and gold clouds like colorful fish in a painted sea. She spoke to the princess softly of the beauty around them.

One day, after a spring shower, Thoryo took Théra to a high point in the valley the band was bivouacking in. They sat down on a rock. Everything—the trees, the grass, the glistening red berries in the bushes, the eggshell-yellow mushrooms peeking out from under the rock they sat on—shone with a vivid, wet light. A rainbow arched across the sky opposite from the sun.

“This is my favorite moment, climbing onto a high spot right after rain,” exclaimed Thoryo. “The world has been reborn!”

As always, Théra said nothing. But Thoryo heard a scratching noise that made her glance to the side. To her surprise, she saw that Théra’s hands were fluttering in her lap like frightened birds, searching for something that didn’t exist. Gingerly, she placed a hand over Théra’s, stilling those restless fingers. For the first time in a long while, she saw that the princess’s lips were moving, as though trying to speak.

She leaned in. Théra’s voice was so soft that she could barely make out the words.

“… climbing onto a high place… after a spring rain…”

“Princess! Are you all right?” she called out, frightened.

Théra blinked, as though awakening from a long dream. Tension and color returned to the slack muscles in her cheeks as she focused her gaze on Thoryo. She cleared her throat, and spoke in a voice raspy from disuse. “A great lady I met years ago told me that gazing upon the rejuvenated world after rain was one of the greatest of pleasures in the world.”

Thoryo nodded. “I agree.”

Tears spilled from Théra’s eyes as her body convulsed. Thoryo pulled her into an embrace and cradled the princess’s head against her shoulder, the same way Théra used to hold her in Lurodia Tanta, when Thoryo was certain that they would never make it out of the desert alive.

“Zomi… Takval… Dara… my family… my sons… all the dead… everyone I touch is hurt, lost, gone, ruined… my heart is bitter.”

Thoryo gently caressed her back, saying nothing. It was a long time before Théra’s lamentation abated.

“When you first found me,” said Thoryo, “when I saw the bodies of all those people from the Lyucu city-ship and the Dara marines adrift at sea, I was inconsolable. I couldn’t understand how the gods could be so cruel as to give the gift of life only to snatch it away.”

Théra sat up and wiped her eyes, listening intently.

“I wondered why we should even believe in the existence of the gods. The Ano sages speak of the River-on-Which-Nothing-Floats, and the Agon speak of riding beyond the World’s Edge Mountains on cloud-garinafins. But who has ever returned from the country of death to verify these claims? There seems to be nothing but the terror of death in this world; death is the one single truth against which all courage and struggle is vanity. Why doesn’t everyone just give up?”

Théra shuddered, hearing her own fears echoed in the words of Thoryo.

“I’ve found no answers in the words of the Ano sages or the stories of the Agon shamans. But I have experienced the world through my senses. Death does come to everything: flowers wilt, trees wither and shed leaves, the sun sets, the strongest ewe or cow weakens with old age, voices fade, sweet fragrances dissipate, the light in the brightest eyes winks out. Yet, beauty never dies. Beauty always refreshes itself.”

She pointed, and Théra followed her finger, taking in the promise of the rainbow.

“After every winter comes the spring, and every death is accompanied by the promise for more life. With his dying breath, Admiral Mitu Roso tried to save the children of Kiri Valley from wolves. On the night of the Lyucu assault, Souliyan Aragoz and Nméji Gon chose to buy more time for us with their own lives. It isn’t that they weren’t afraid of death. But they also saw themselves as part of something grander, a greater Life that never dies so long as each individual life refuses to yield to despair.”

“You speak of the Flow,” muttered Théra, “as did that great lady who once shared some lotus seeds with me. She spoke of the infinite potential in a heart of emptiness, of the ever-renewing pleasure of simply being. But my errors—”

“I am not wise enough to know the will of the gods or the right course in life,” said Thoryo. “I only know that the world is too large, too beautiful, too interesting to let one act define us. Death only triumphs when we stop learning and growing. So long as our lungs sing with the gift of life, we cannot cease to give back to Life.”

Théra said nothing. She stilled her heart and opened her senses, to the intense carmine glow of the berries, to the woodsy fragrance of the mushrooms, to the distant song of an answer-me-now, to the warm caress of the spring breeze. She let herself sink into the Flow as though diving into the eternal sea.

About The Author

Photograph by Lisa Tang Liu

Ken Liu is an award-winning American author of speculative fiction. His collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, has been published in more than a dozen languages. Liu’s other works include The Grace of KingsThe Wall of StormsThe Veiled Throne, and a second collection The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. He has been involved in multiple media adaptations of his work, including the short story “Good Hunting,” adapted as an episode in Netflix’s animated series Love, Death + Robots; and AMC’s Pantheon, adapted from an interconnected series of short stories. “The Hidden Girl,” “The Message,” and “The Oracle” have also been optioned for development. Liu previously worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant. He frequently speaks at conferences and universities on topics including futurism, machine-augmented creativity, the history of technology, and the value of storytelling. Liu lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • Publisher: S&S/Saga Press (January 31, 2023)
  • Length: 1072 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982148980

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Ken Liu

More books in this series: The Dandelion Dynasty