The kingdom of Ile-Rien lies in peril, menaced by sorcerous threats and devious court intrigues. As the weak King Roland, flattered and misled by treacherous companions, rules the country, only his ruthless mother, the Dowager Queen Ravenna, guards the safety of the realm. But now rumors arise that Urbain Grandier, the dark master of scientific sorcery, has arrived to plot against the throne. And Kade, bastard sister of King Roland, appears unexpectedly at court. The illegitimate daughter of the old king and the Queen of Air and Darkness herself, Kade's true desires are cloaked in mystery. Is she in league with the wizard Grandier, or is she laying claim to the throne? It falls to Thomas Boniface, Captain of the Queen's Guard and Ravenna's former lover, to sort out who is friend and who is foe in a deadly game to keep the Dowager Queen and the kingdom she loves from harm. But is one man's steel enough to counter all the magic of fayre?
©1993 Martha Wells (P)2013 Tantor
"Skillfully blending the fantastical and the mundane, Wells delights with deft and sympathetic characterization while demonstrating a fine touch for adventure." (Publishers Weekly)
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
Somehow I have overlooked Martha Wells in my years of reading fantasy, but as Audible started adding some of her books, I checked this author out and realized she's not only a fellow Texan, but a fellow Aggie (Wells has an anthropology degree from Texas A&M) so I knew I wanted to give her work a listen. Although The Element of Fire was her debut novel, it has been recently revised by the author. I don't know what revisions she made, but this version is wonderful. This is high fantasy set in the country of Ile-Rien which is a little like 18th century France (so not your typical medieval high fantasy setting), with the plot driven as much by political intrigue as it by standard battles, and multi-faceted characters that a listener can really relate to. The beginning of the book is a bit challenging because Wells sets you down right in the middle of the action and then slowly unveils all the workings of Ile-Rien and its people as you move through the narrative. This makes for a fast-paced plot, but it takes a little while (about 2 hours into the story for me) to really connect with the characters. However, once I really got to know Kade, I was totally hooked. Suspenseful plot, engaging characters, a touch of romance (nothing sappy or hokey), some fun wry humor and snappy dialog - what's not to like?
Derek Perkins is a superb narrator and good fit for this book. He has a cultured English accent with a warm, nicely modulated voice and he does good character voices - especially for the Fae. This is a male narrator who doesn't make the women characters sound wimpy or goofy.
I will definitely be listening to more from Martha Wells.
I read this book when it first came out about 20 years ago, It has been my go to long trip book since then. A detailed and fascinating world built around the golden age of France, filled with political intrigues of the human and fairy worlds and engaging characters. It never fails to hold my interest.
Superbly narrated by Derek Perkins. He's a pro. As for the story, it's action-packed, coherent, and mildly complex. Good dialogue. Gruesome. Some sections are vividly gripping, some parts went on too long, and some scenes are just plain sad. I think King Roland -- so lacking in self-esteem -- made the greatest impression on me. His portrayal felt realistic.
However, the weak king is a secondary character. I didn't get into the main characters. I wish Wells would devote a greater percentage of the text to characterization and relationship development. She is strong on plot and action -- which is important -- but I need to care about the characters, and that means I need to know them, individually and as a team.
So, after half a dozen false starts, I finally got into the characters just enough to stay the course. This is primarily a kingdom based fantasy, with a romantic relationship on the side. I didn't get deeply drawn into the story of Kade and Thomas, because his past affair with Queen Ravenna overshadowed it.
The fantastical elements include shape shifting, wizards, wards, dark fey from the Unseelie Court, light fey from the Seelie Court (Tatiana and Oberon).
Lots of unnatural disgusting creatures. Lots of bloody battles. Treason, court intrigues, and various betrayals. A few kisses. Cool scenes of the castle, home of the Queen of Darkness and Air (aka Kade).
I liked this book, but not as much as her award-winning The Death of the Necromancer.
Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
The particular moment left me feeling disoriented for a while. Things didn’t start becoming clearer until around page 50 or so. For me, that’s when the book really started to answer my question, “To what end?” While I saw a certain reveal coming, I was pleasantly surprised she didn’t let that drag out to the end. She introduced it about midway through the story, which gave the plot room to explore other things. Once things started to happen, this book built momentum, escalating fairly quickly by the time readers start nearing the middle of the book.
However, with the momentum came a few hiccups. There were way too many instances of buildup for certain plot points and then, the denouement for these things didn’t deliver that satisfying sense of closure one expects, which is a little frustrating. Some other things that were twined into the plot had a tendency to come off as “Oh my, what a coincidence!” moments, followed abruptly with, “Well, if that was the case, why didn’t they do/say/tell [insert scenario here] instead of nothing?” Some things seem to started to buildup to something interesting and then suddenly fizzle out.
I liked most of the main characters. Ravenna, Thomas, Grandier, and Kade really got to shine throughout the book. Grandier’s gray morality and “be the monster they made you” attitude was interesting. I loved Ravenna, especially the fact that, unlike other book queens, Ravenna surrounded herself with gentlewomen and queen’s servants that she taught to be as scrupulous and quick-thinking as herself. Her servants were not fodder. She saw no use in having servants around her that couldn’t prove themselves useful for more than just their serving skills. Other characters felt a little weaker in their roles, such as the King and Queen, but they had a few memorable moments.
This book was part fantasy, part mystery. I’m curious about the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and wonder if I’ll see more of them in future books. Derek Perkins was an engaging narrator and an excellent voice for this series. His vocal characterization of both Ravenna and Kade were my favorites. I’ll continue to listen to the audiobooks for his narration. I loved the various little pieces of the puzzle coming together throughout the book, even if I felt the ultimate reveal was very dramatic against the more mellow tone of the story, especially considering how so many points had such underwhelming conclusions. I wasn’t as taken with this book as I was The Cloud Roads. The Cloud Roads feels like the type of book that I would use to introduce people to Wells’ work, but I had fun with this book all the same.
The Element of Fire was pretty good I thought. It was a little hard to follow at times, but for the most part it was a very good read. Thomas and Kade are both fantastic Characters and Wells does a good job creating the world they live in. Add a happy ending in for good luck and you've got yourself a pretty darn good book.
Narration wasn't the worlds greatest, but it wasn't bad either. Worth a credit/money.
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