GUEST REVIEW: Element of Fire by Martha Wells
When Jayne asked me if I would be willing to review one of my favorite books for Dear Author, the trick was choosing which one of yours to review. You consistently create rich, unique worlds, complex heroines and heroes who are both real and extraordinary, and your books are impossible to put down. These are fantasy novels, but in every book of yours there is a strong and often discreet thread of romance that always leaves me longing for more of this couple. I entirely and completely love Maskelle in Wheel of the Infinite, for example-‘the somewhat older, sometimes wiser heroine, who should not, under any terms, be messed with by the slightest little fraction, even if you are a god. And her relationship with Rian is perfect.
But in the end, I chose the first book I ever read by you and the first book you ever wrote, Element of Fire. The complete revised edition of this book is available online here, but my review refers to my original, unrevised copy. Sorry. Much as I love the new cover on the revised edition, try to pry my from my original old paperback and you’ll find my clutching at it frantically and turning nearly as dangerous as your main characters.
Element of Fire introduces us to Ile-Rien, an Elizabethan world full of swords, sorcery, and far too full of Faerie and intricate politics for any of the characters’ good. The world is vivid and real with not a single two-dimensional character or facile and illogical use of magic or mayhem in sight.
We start in medias res, with a grappling hook skittering across rain-slick stone, and tension is high:
"He’s coming," Gideon Townsend, Thomas’s lieutenant, said as he made his way toward them out of the heavy shadows. Reaching them he glanced up at the full moon, stark white against the backdrop of wind-driven rain clouds, and muttered, "Not the best night for this work."-
Thomas personally couldn’t think of a good time to forcibly invade a foreign sorcerer’s house. "The point of it is to go and be killed where you’re told," he said. "Is everyone in position?"
Thomas Boniface is captain of the Queen’s Guard, and I am in love with him. He is hot. I don’t know how you do it. You never tell us so, as most authors do. You never mention anything about his physical attractiveness at all really-‘just a few references to his younger days. But if this book needed to be carried, he could carry it with his charisma alone. What makes the book that much better is that he doesn’t have to carry it. Each separate element–the plot, the world, and each well-drawn character-‘would by itself make it a compelling read.
Thomas Boniface is in a tricky situation. He is Captain of the Queen’s Guard, a position of great power and danger, but the Queen (Ravenna) is now a Dowager Queen and her son is the legal ruler. But the son is ineffectual and worse, not to mention completely under the control of his manipulative lover/advisor Denzil, who wants Thomas Boniface dead.
Enter Kade Carrion, the illegitimate stepchild, a superb character. The old king Fulstan her father was Ravenna’s husband, and while Ravenna was off to war this abusive man left his mark on both his children. He also had some interesting encounters: Kade’s mother is the Queen of Air and Darkness, not exactly an easy woman to be indifferently raised by:
"And how is your dear mother, child?"
Ravenna’s expression was as polite as a judge passing sentence; Kade looked ironic and amused. "She’s in Hell."
"Wishful thinking, surely."
"Oh, no, she really is. We saw her go. She lost a wager."
That makes Kade the official Queen of Air and Darkness, but she has little idea how to fulfill the role and less desire to try. She is also an enemy of the crown, guilty of sending many cursed and murderous gifts, even though she claims now to have a different and less harmful agenda.
You put Thomas Boniface and Kade Carrion together, and then you add to the mix disaster, danger, the Unseelie Court, and one of the world’s greatest sorcerers tortured into an inexorable determination to revenge. And Thomas Boniface and Kade Carrion find themselves fighting side-by-side.
Grit, glamour, guts, glory, grandeur, and delicate, subtle moments of unexpected trust, great dialogue, and deliciously revelations.
It’s been a delight to have an excuse to re-read this book for this review. How often do you find yourself staying up late to keep reading a book the nth time you’ve read it? But I did. Kudos to you, Ms. Wells, and please keep them coming. As for me, my appetite for great adventure, high romance, great characters, and great dialogue is whetted, and I’m off to re-read Wheel of the Infinite now.
Do you have a favorite book? Would you like to share that with Dear Author? Send your review to jane at dearauthor.com. Every Monday we share books that we love to inspire more reading.