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 ..Show More »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.
Kingdom-level fantasy with strong elements of magic, mystery, and political conspiracy. Pitch perfect narration. Easy on the ears with discernibly dif..Show More »ferent voices. No irritating breathing sounds, affectations, or mannerisms.
As for the story, it's got vengeance, vivisection, resurrection, and insurrection. Political intrigue via golems and hedge witches, science and sorcerers, magical paintings and magical trees (a lá Hogwarts), and steampunk-ish spheres melding magic and technology. There's Unsealie Court Dark Fey and cute garden fairies, too (but not a dragon in sight).
(I listened, didn't read, so names may be misspelled.)
It's captivating, somewhat heartwarming, fast-paced and coherent. The story is set mostly in a fantastical rendition of old world London (Lodun) and Vienna (Vienne). Horses and carriages, ball gowns and butlers, telegraphs and ... sewers. (Lots of action down in the sewers.)
The good guys are a band of thieves, a likable cast of ne'er-do-wells reminiscent of Robin Hood. The leader of this gang is Lord Nicholas Valliard (aka Donaten the mastermind thief). His team includes Madeline, an actress and master of disguise (his lover); Cusard, a lock-pick thief; Captain Raynard, a calvary officer wrongfully discharged; and Crock, a prison escapee framed for murder.
Then there is Nicholas's friend Ariselde, an opium-addicted sorcerer, and Isham (Ariselde's manservant). Eventually Madele, an old hedge-witch, joins in.
And there's a queen -- fabulous character. In fact, nearly every female in this story is strong: Madeline, her grandmother Madele, the queen.
Plus, serving the queen is the tenacious and perceptive Inspector Sebastien Ransward, along with his discerning colleague Dr. Halle.
The villains are varied and many, but Nicholas primarily is after Lord Montesq, who fabricated evidence to frame his beloved adoptive father Edouard, which led to his hanging. Of course, he's first got to put a stop to the Necromancer.
I like how this author writes, slowly revealing character traits and pertinent life stories, weaving these tidbits into the story over time. Also, she avoids long info dumps, doesn't try so hard to convince me that her magical theories hold water, and goes easy on the internal dialogue, so the pace isn't mired in needless and redundant thoughts. She lets me draw my own conclusions about what the characters might be feeling and thinking. I appreciate this so much.
This is straight fantasy suspense. Sometimes gory, gruesome, scary. No real romance, since Madeline and Nicholas are already openly in love and cohabiting on page one. Yet their devotion is cool!
There is a touch of bromance, however, among the members of this Ocean's Eleven team. Crack loves Nicholas, especially. And an intriguing relationship sprouts between Nicholas (channeling a kinder gentler Moriarty) and Inspector Ranswald (a more socially adept Sherlock).
Some good plot twists.
My only quibbles are minor: A little too pat at the ending, and I'd be willing to sacrifice some high-octane action scenes and skullduggery for bonding time around the fire. Phew! These guys never get to rest! (Except for poor opium-soaked sorceror, Arisilde -- another fabulous character). Some parts are predictable.
It's all good. Not sure I would listen to it again and again -- as I do with favorites -- because it didn't totally pull on my heart strings. But maybe I will.