I am about to go into some extreme nerd territory here, but what All the Windwracked Stars reminded me of, more than anything else, was a video game. Final Fantasy VII to be exact. And while many people like to compare films or books to video games in some sort of derogatory way, I mean it in the absolute best way possible. The point is, there's something so pitch perfect about this novel's depiction of the tragic melancholy of a world that is slowly and clearly in the throes of death, of the ways in which both science and magic are twisted to wrench some last gasps from the planet to allow those people who are left to continue their normal, self-involved lives for just a little longer, that struck me as nothing but that particular game ever had before.
It didn't hurt that there are a few vaguely similar tics to the plot, just enough for a comfortable reminder to nerd like me.
The book starts at the aftermath of Ragnarok, the apocalypse of Norse mythology. Not even just Ragnarok either, but a second one, as at least one world suffered the same fate extremely long ago. While this Ragnarok signals the end of the world, things manage to limp along for about 2,500 years, and in that time mankind rises and falls. Most of the book shows us a world (it was never quite Earth) that's long dead except for one tenacious city. And then we have Muire, the last Waelcyrge (Valkyrie) who's alive because she turned coward and ran at the last battle.
Then there's also cat, rat, dog, and bull people, a floating island college, a technomancer (which is exactly what it sounds like), a villainous vampiric holdover from Ragnarok, reincarnation, a two-headed robo-steed, and a fighter/manwhore who'll sleep with anyone. There's a lot of book there, and most of it is eminently enjoyable.
But it really is a lot, and my only big problem with it all is that not everything is explained enough to make sense. There is so much mythology, so many Norse names, and so much strange technology all floating around that I didn't quite understand everything that happened. This was especially too bad as most of the interweaving of these elements was very interesting and beautiful (sometimes even when I didn't get it), leaving me to realize later that I couldn't really explain what was actually going on at times. (Although, that's another thing that reminds me of FFVII's plot, but I digress.) The main plot, and it's most important plot points, however, all worked just fine.
All told, though, the book was beautifully written, at times intensely lyrical, exciting, melancholy, tragic, and extremely sexual. I could probably write a whole review just about the sexuality of the book itself, which can be as disturbing and confusing as everything else at times, but suffice it to say that it's a major component of the novel, but love and sex are never as simple here as they so often are in fiction.
This was the first I've ever read of Bear. I liked it very much, and intend to read more of her (and not just because I'm hoping that this book's sequel will explain some things). But I do wish I knew more about Norse mythology (I thought I was fairly well-versed, but it mostly came from Thor comics) or understood what was going on a little better. A second reading may do wonders. But even without total understanding, sitting back and just letting everything wash over me was quite the experience.