Grail (Jacob’s Ladder 3) by Elizabeth Bear [Book Review]

Jacob’s Ladder leads to Heaven and God according to Genesis.

I have just finished Grail the concluding volume of Elizabeth Bear’s generation ship epos Jacob’s Ladder. I have a hard time distilling the story down to review size but here goes.

Jacob’s Ladder is getting close to journey’s end and the planet Grail. Perceval became the captain after her beloved Rien scarified herself and merged with the ship’s ai and vanquished the dragon Dust, the ship library that ruled ship for centuries turning it into something from Literature. That is why the story reads as a medieval saga with transhuman technologies, knights and angels (most so in the first book). They survived the alien encounter and the acceleration that followed. Perceval and her companions have started to repair the ship again and are working towards uniting the different tribes that has been separated for so long. But the ship is far from well and not everyone agree on a course of action. Some even want to turn around not to infect another world. A theft turned murder reveals powerful old enemies. In a transhuman world death is seldom permanent.

It became something of a different story when we dive into the culture of the ‘rightminded’ humans that already lives on Grail, the planet they call Fortune. Jacob’s Ladder left earth to escape the Kleptomancy and forge their own solution to human development while humanity back on the devastated earth forged their own – rightminding. It raises all kind of interesting questions and most of them get their answers here. Elizabeth delivers civilization critique wrapped in velvet. For the people on Fortune it is a legend come alive but it also raises fear. Are the Jacobeans even human anymore?  The fear of the uncorrected ‘normal’ humans also surfaces and it is quite entertaining at times how they portrait that. There are forces on both sides that are willing to go to war to take or protect what they think is right. Premiere Danilaw has to walk a tight rope as he becomes the emissary to the Jacobeans.

It is a complex story with many aspects and participants and I am in awe how tight Elizabeth still succeeds in keeping it, this could easily have swelled to a kilo pages. I enjoyed the different points of view and the characters are distinct and well developed. Perceval is in many respects the main character everything revolves around, she is also by far the most human in all her Exalted transhumanism.  Danilaw is the other character that stands out rightminded as he is he plays old tunes on his guitar and are used to manage the planet by nudging or tweaking. I like the characters here, they don’t bicker as much as I like but it is not that kind of story.

Two different paths of human evolution meet and clash. Will they be able to forge a new future together? You have to read the book to find out.

I love this series. It is like blending LOTR with The Diamond Age and Matrix with a crust of Ghost in the Machine. Grail is a satisfying conclusion to Jacob’s Ladder loaded with tension, intrigue, treason, revelations and humanity. Singularity has become something of a Holy Grail in current science fiction but here Grail is a planet and trans-humanism a gateway to becoming human which is refreshing. I recommend this as one of the more significant science fiction trilogies in later years. You should really read it, I enjoyed it immensly.


My reviews of the previous novels: Dust and Chill.

Title: Grail
Series: Jacob’s Ladder Trilogy book 3
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Genre: Science Fiction with a flair of Medieval saga
331 pages
Publisher: Spectra (2011)
Copy: Bought it from Amazon
Order from: Amazon US | UK

Rife with intrigue and betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, Grail brings Elizabeth Bear’s brilliant space opera to a triumphant conclusion.

At last the generation ship Jacob’s Ladder has arrived at its destination: the planet they have come to call Grail. But this habitable jewel just happens to be populated already: by humans who call their home Fortune. And they are wary of sharing Fortune—especially with people who have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent that it is a matter of debate whether they are even human anymore. To make matters worse, a shocking murder aboard the Jacob’s Ladder has alerted Captain Perceval and the angel Nova that formidable enemies remain hidden somewhere among the crew.

On Grail—or Fortune, rather—Premier Danilaw views the approach of the Jacob’s Ladder with dread. Behind the diplomatic niceties of first-contact protocol, he knows that the deadly game being played is likely to erupt into full-blown war—even civil war. For as he strives to chart a peaceful and prosperous path forward for his people, internal threats emerge to take control by any means necessary.