Audiobook Review: The Element of Fire by Martha Wells

The Element of FireGenre: Fantasy

Series: Book #1 of the Ile-Rien Series

Publisher: Self-Published (November 13, 2006)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Tiara’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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Narrator: Derek Perkins  | Length: 14 hrs and 8 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Audio (September 16, 2013) | Whispersync Ready: Yes

The Element of Fire focuses on the royal family of Ile-Rien, which is ruled by the ineffectual King Roland who has some strange parasitic relationship with a sneaky cousin. Along with King Roland is his mother, the Dowager Queen Ravenna who is often thought ambitious and even ruthless, and the enigmatic Falaise, the king’s ignored wife. Last, we have Kade, Roland’s half-fay sister, the offspring of Roland’s father and a fayre woman known as the Queen of Air and Darkness, who reappears suddenly, leaving everyone wondering what she wants. In the middle of this family drama is Thomas Boniface, captain of the Queen’s Guard and former lover of Ravenna, tasked with finding a talented, dangerous sorcerer hiding in Ile-Rien named Urbain Grandier.

I’d probably rate this somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars. In the beginning, this book was a ball of confusion for me. I said it started slow, but that’s not correct. How can a beginning that includes the Queen’s Guard literally being fought by a warded house be a slow start?  Definitely not a slow start, but the particular moment left me feeling disoriented for a while. Things didn’t start becoming clearer until around page 50 or so. That’s when the book started to answer my question, “To what end?” While I saw a certain reveal coming, I was glad 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 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 can be 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 nobility, Ravenna surrounded herself with gentlewomen and queen’s servants that she taught to be as scrupulous,  resourceful, and quick-thinking as herself. Her servants were not fodder, and she was just as loyal to them as they were to her.  Other characters felt a little weaker in their roles, such as the King and Queen, but they had some memorable moments as well.

I also liked that Wells’ magic system didn’t automatically make the fay overpowered. She stuck more to the mischievous, flighty, chaotic nature of them and their magic while sorcery was a more powerful tool as a learned art. Fay magic is quick and illusionary where sorcery takes years of training and dedication to master. The fay are afraid of this careful control of magic because a fay can only be so good whereas sorcery gives its users access to remarkable power. Kade toes the line of human and fay, using both fay magic and sorcery to her advantage. Kade wasn’t a magical genius, though, because she’s not a master of either magic, but both forms of magic gave her a varied arsenal of attacks, such as pulling glamour out of the air or using spellfire to light a candle.

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, though I did find some of his voices a little too similar for some characters. His vocal characterization of both Ravenna and Kade were my favorites, but he did do well enough that I will continue to listen to the audiobooks.  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.

Story: 73660-new3stars  | Performance: 66235-new3-5stars | Overall: aff72-new3-5stars

7 Comments on “Audiobook Review: The Element of Fire by Martha Wells”

    • The Cloud Roads would be the one I’d recommend to someone. This one is fun, but that one is in a league of its own.


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