Ethera Grave (The Graven, #3) by Essa Hansen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 560 pages (paperback)
Published: 18th July 2023, Orbit

“Overhead, the Cartographer and passager fleet streaked the sky. On the opposite horizon, the encroaching rind flux hit the exosphere. Arcs of simmering luminosity coiled across the view. The salthuin entreated their heavens, billowing diaphonus bodies in synchrony, oceanic and serene.”

Ethera Grave is a wildly imaginative and thought-provoking conclusion to the unforgettable Graven trilogy. I pored over its prose, chewed on its theories and conflicts, and allowed myself to walk in the shoes of all its main characters. It is a richly-drawn story that I connected with, hard. Hansen has an incredible talent for drawing the reader into her unique and colorful multiverse, populated with ideas that stretch the mind while still reflecting on our current society’s cultural values. It raises philosophical debates while addressing identity, responsibility, and influence, and above all, is an incredibly fun read. Every time I started a new chapter, I never knew what to expect, and it kept surprising me over and over again.

This story focuses on the pros and cons of choice versus unity on an immeasurable scale. But one of the themes that particularly stood out was how refreshing it was to have platonic love and found family as the strongest and most visible relationships in the story. While Ethera Grave contains more romance than the first two books combined, it doesn’t lose focus on the most powerful bonds forged within its wide cast of characters. I felt most connected to the tender moments shared between characters that weren’t overtly sexual in nature.

Character development is one of the book’s strongest assets. Every supporting character has their own distinct journey, but for the purposes of this review, I’ll focus on four major viewpoints.

Abriss is creating a utopia by collapsing universes into her own, but doesn’t seem to mind that you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Unfortunately, these cracked eggs are acts of genocide, as entire civilizations and histories are wiped out if they cannot adjust to their new universal physics. Abriss has been steadily influenced by a Graven consciousness for entire life, so it is difficult for her to determine where her motivations stem from, nor how to control them.

Leta is uncomfortable in her own skin. Although her consciousness has drifted from body to construct, she has never quite felt like she belongs in any of the forms she’s been tied to, either in her service to Abriss, or her human origins. She longs for peace in her physical and mental space, but sacrifices so much of what she wants to help her companions when she can. She sacrifices love and a chance at happiness due to her deep empathy with those she is close to. Her arc is heartbreaking and hopeful, and is one of my favorite characters of the trilogy.

Threi is obsessed with control. For most of his life, he has much of the multiverse under his thumb due to his innate Graven abilities. Although that has affected the way he builds organic relationships with his peers, he takes advantage of his role and tries to build practical solutions to some of the universe’s biggest problems. But his sister Abriss is even more powerful, and stopping her plan of unifying the multiverse becomes his new obsession. Seeing how he deals with the ever-changing scope of his campaign, especially with loved ones at stake, is new territory for Threi. How does he react when he’s not the most powerful Graven-fueled human in the room? It’s time for Threi to assess what’s truly important, and what must be sacrificed along the way.

Caiden has come a long way since his days as a mechanic, but some things never change: he is a born fixer, and is willing to put aside his own needs and desires to achieve results. Caiden’s whole life has been about serving the greater good. Will there ever be a moment when he can focus on living his own life, on his own terms? Can he ever escape the clutches of his Graven influence? Is there a line he wouldn’t cross to stop Unity, to preserve a part of himself?

Beautiful, descriptive, and imaginative prose flows out of every page. It’s hard to choose which passages to share, since I highlighted so many, but here are a few of my favorites:

“The rind membrane splintered, and Unity paved into the other universe in a vicious front of conversion. Space expanded, allowing light to break its limits. Mathematics rioted. Music tangled into dissonance as it transposed into Unity, restringing space to play new chords.”

“Leta was too exhausted to carry hope. The shape of it had carved into her over all this time. One day it’d cut right through.”

“The chalarii was sensitive to the group’s scent information. He towered over the gathering but was viciously thin, body gelatinous and water-drop smooth over transparent, spongy bones. An oily sheen that migrated across him betrayed his irritations.”

“Pressure rolled in the air like thunder slowed. Electricity effervesced through the orrery as Ethera poured into physical space. The projected stars bent and rays crumpled, space bulged and contracted, huge folds of unnameable mass: coils and waves and scales and arms and roots. The light of heavens slicked over strange curves, helping define the Graven for her mortal vision.”

The Graven trilogy is one of the very best trilogies I’ve read — science-fiction, or otherwise. It is packed with emotion, discovery, allegory, and speaks volumes about our current cultural climate. Plus, it’s just so darn cool. It was a joy to read and I cannot recommend this series enough.

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