The Element of Fire
The Element of Fire is Martha Wells’ first published novel. At this point, I’ve read several of her books, so it was interesting traveling back in time to the earliest point in her professional writing career. I can safely say that I was not disappointed. It seems Martha has always known how to write a good book, even from the very beginning. The Element of Fire reads like a three musketeers story with sword fights and rapier armed guardsmen, but there’s the added fun of sorcerers and the fay. With rich characters and a delightfully fun story that carries the action to the very last line of the book, it’s a tale worth reading.
There are two stars in the book. One is Thomas Boniface. Thomas is the Captain of the Queen’s Guard. On the surface, he’s the courageous, loyal guardsmen who would give his life to save the queen. He’s skilled with a sword and pistol and considered a bit of a lady’s man. But Thomas is also a romantic consort of the Dowager Queen. To further complicate matters, there are two queens in the book. There’s the Dowager Queen Ravenna, who is the acting leader of Ile-Rien, and then there’s Queen Falaise, the bride of the current King, Roland. Roland is in turn the son of Ravenna. There’s no incest going on, it’s just a matter of Roland not being quite up to par for ruling the kingdom so Ravenna is doing the real work of leadership. Thomas is one of her most trusted confidants.
The other star of the book is Kade Carrion, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Kade is half fay and half human. She’s also King Roland’s sister, though not by Ravenna. Unlike Roland, Kade holds no aspirations for the throne and is much more interested in magic. Being half fay, no one trusts her, and her motives are kept very mysterious. But as the story progresses, details are revealed and her character is significantly developed. Her and Thomas become central focal points for the story and the fate of Ile-Rien.
As the book starts out, Thomas leads a rescue mission to save a sorcerer named Dubell from an evil sorcerer named Grandier. However Grandier is only mentioned in the beginning and a lot of the early story darts around the politics of the royal court. The various characters are introduced and their roles are laid out. After the action scene that kicks off the story, there’s a slow warm up before things get really good. Yet that build up pays off. By the time the fay arrive and the kingdom falls into chaos, you’re already comfortable with the main characters and their roles. And there’s a lot of action in the later half of the book. In fact there’s action all the way up to the very end, quite literally.
As a reader, I like the more exotic elements in fantasy stories. It adds to the escapism and provides fuel for the imagination. In that respect, The Element of Fire delivers by unleashing a whole horde of bizarre fay creatures who run amuck in Ile-Rien. Plus there are two clashing schools of magic that play a part in the story. On the one hand, there is Dubell and his traditional sorcery. On the other is Kade and her fay magic which uses glamour. Furthermore, the story not only utilizes the fay, but explores several locations in the fay realm. I really enjoyed the scenes in the fay world with their wild environments and gravity defying structures.
Guns, swords, magic, fay, politics, romance, duels, battlefields, there’s a little bit of everything in The Element of Fire, but never too much or too little. The story has deep characters, enjoyable action scenes and a fun plot. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories with good characters. It’s use of the fay helps it stand out from many other fantasy stories. Yet there really is something to be said about the ending: it’s perfect. Not drawn out, not cut short, but just absolutely fitting for the characters. I give The Element of Fire a five out of five metal bikinis.