In the 21st century, Nell Latimer is part of a group of astronomers who spot "The Bitch." It appears to be an asteroid on a course for Earth. When it strikes, it will wreak havoc, killing off a major portion of the population. Those who survive the initial impact will then have to face a long global winter which will kill off many more. Her story is chronicled in her journals.
This journal is interspersed with the main story set many millenia in Earth's future. The global winter has passed. Humans are gaining population again. They have broken into many sects or communities. Some believe in magic. Some can still work machines and believe in science. Others believe in hard work and isolation. Each appears to have their own religion, yet all have some common beliefs in the gods to come.
Dismé lives with her mean, petty step-sister. After her mother disappeared, her father remarried. After he was bottled, her step-mother was her guardian. Her step-mother has since been bottled as well. Once Dismé thought she was in love, but her step-sister Rashel married him instead. They live in the community of Bastion.
The inhabitants of Bastion believe magic is returning. They pretend to search for the "Lost Arts." Yet they seem to inhibit the search at the same time. Any person who isn't part of their community is either a demon or substandard humans, so are fair game when they go out hunting. There is something dark and evil under Bastion. It controls many of the townspeople and leaders.
Tepper has woven a lot of threads into this novel. She includes religion, mysticism, science, genetic changes, an apocolyptic event, mortals, and gods in her story. The first few chapters are a bit muddled as the reader tries to find out what is happening. Then the story pulls together and catches the attention throughout the middle. But it loses momentum by the end. All the pieces are there to logically pull the book together, yet it disappoints. There are loose ends and dropped balls.
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