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By Tango on 12-08-13
A Different Take on High Fantasy
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.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
By T. L. Walker on 06-25-15
Started a little confusing, but found its footing
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.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful