The Element of Fire


Martha Wells


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

August 2, 2007

he Element of Fire is a fine first novel by Martha Wells, who has gone on to become a well regarded fantasy author. It is the story of an attack on the Kingdom of Ile-Rien by sorcerous fiends. The hero is Thomas, the captain of the guard. The heroine is the unfortunately named Cade Carrion (why didn't an editor warn the first-time author that she would later regret this jokey name for her heroine?) I never did understand the title of this novel - no where does the Element of Fire seem to get mentioned in the story. Nor does the book cover illustration have anything to do with the story - there are no flying flaming castles in this novel.

I picked up this book because I was going to read Martha Wells' new series - The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods, which together make up the Fall of Ile-Rein trilogy. Somehow, I remembered that The Element of Fire was based upon Ile-Rein, and so I decided to read this book first - perhaps it is a prequel to her new trilogy? It turns out that Death of a Necromancer, Wells' enormously popular book about a gentleman thief, is also set in Ile-Rein. I have read Death of a Necromancer, and from what I remember, it was nothing at all like The Element of Fire. So maybe I didn't need to read The Element of Fire before cracking open her new trilogy.

Judged as a stand alone novel, The Element of Fire is not too bad. It has some nice scenes of action, nice scenes of fantasy world building. The opening chapter is quite nice - Thomas Boniface, captain of the guard, leads a group of soldiers into the booby trapped tower of an absent sorcerer to rescued a kidnapped advisor (Galen Dubell) to the royal family. Thomas & company battle sorcerous alarms and traps - it is imaginative and well done. There is another really nice scene when the fleeing royalty are attacked in a tower by some big powerful sorcerous monsters.

The overall plot is a bit puzzling. The evil sorceror, Urbain (another unfortunate name) Grandier, wants revenge - but Wells' doesn't make a strong case for his villainy - she spends too much time trying to humanize the guy (I guess she was trying to create a well rounded character, rather than a stock antagonist who is bad just because the plot demands that he be bad) that Grandier doesn't seem evil nor vengeful enough to cause all this death and destruction.

Cade seems too powerful also. I guess that's the trouble with trying to write about magic: the magic users are so powerful that the regular humans don't really stand a chance, unless the bad guys spare them. The dowager Queen Ravenna is well drawn, but her weakling son and heir, King Roland, seems too stupid and gullible to be believed. There is a traitor, and even though he isn't too hard to spot, I liked him too.

The basic story is big attack on the royal palace by Grandier. The traitor cripples the sorcerous defenses and the monsters get in. There are sword fights and rescues - mostly good, and some magic use, which is a bit confusing. Overall, it is a decent read. Apparently, a revised version of the novel is now available on line at Martha Wells' official website. So if you like reading on your computer screen (I vastly prefer printed media) here is the link