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.
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