Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Element of Fire (Ile-Rien #1), by Martha Wells (author), Derek Perkins (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452686318, July 2015 (original publication July 1993)

The kingdom of Ile-Rien has a weak king, Roland, a strong and ruthless Queen Dowager, his mother, Ravenna guarding the kingdom's interests despite Roland and the friends who manipulate him, and some very dangerous enemies.

One of those enemies is Urbain Grandier, a master of scientific sorcery, who is in Ile-Rien with an agenda of his own. He's not actually hostile to the kingdom, but he wants its resources to destroy his real enemy, the neighboring kingdom of Bisran, his native kingdom, who convicted and tortured the sorcerer for what are serious crimes there. He's prepared to use all of Ile-Rien's resources, both wealth and people, to do that--for however long it takes.

Ravenna, and the captain of the Queen's Guard, Thomas Boniface, and various other court officials, who may or may not be fully aligned with Ravenna, suspect Grandier is in the capital, but don't know where he is, or what he plans.

Meanwhile, some of the same people, particularly Boniface and the Queen Dowager, are certain that King Roland's friend, his friend from childhood, of having his own plot, a plot to make himself king.

The court sorcerer, Galen Dubell, captured by Grandier and rescued by Boniface, is key to many of the efforts made against these plots.

Adding to the excitement, the king's bastard sister, Kade Carrion, has returned to court after years absent, unexpectedly and uninvited, and no one has any idea what her intentions are. This is especially disturbing because she is the bastard daughter of the late King Fulstan, and the Queen of Air and Darkness. She's half fay, has some fay powers, and has spent much of the last few years in Fayre. Also, years ago, before she left court, Galen Dubell had taught her some sorcery.

Shortly after her arrival, Kade is attacked by a golem. The golem is killed, but it's the forerunner of an invasion from Fayre, specifically by the Unseelie Court. Kade finds herself assisting Thomas Boniface and others in resisting the invasion. The success is partial, and costly, and in the course of it they discover that Denzil and Grandier are in league--though possibly Denzil is confused about how interested Grandier is in Denzil's own goals.

What follows is a complex, tangled, deadly conflict among several factions, with complex, interesting characters. Even the villains are more than just villains; their motives are layered and interesting even when that doesn't change your ultimate judgment of them. This is a really well-done fantasy, set in a world that feels real, and you care about the people, and the country of Ile-Rien.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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