RogerBW's Blog

The Wizard Hunters, Martha Wells 27 November 2023

2003 gaslamp fantasy. Ile-Rien is under attack by the mysterious Gardier and their black airships. Tremaine Valiarde doesn't really care about that; she's just looking for a way to die, on her own terms. In another world, Ilias wants to make sure the wizard he killed is still dead.

Definitely a book of two settings, then: on one side, not-London under the Zeppelin Blitz, with blackouts and evacuations and a luxury liner hastily converted as a troop ship. On the other, a culture of fishers and weavers, with strict societal roles and taboos.

And for the series reader, Tremaine is the daughter of Nicholas, the protagonist of The Death of the Necromancer – but he and Madeleine are dead and gone. Or so everyone assumes.

There are three distinct cultures happening here, though we don't learn much about the Gardier other than "nasty"; and also three distinct approaches to exerting control over the world, the islanders' gods, the wizards and artificers of Vienne, and the industrial mechanics and magics of the Gardier. But while that alone could be a fascinating story, this is a Martha Wells book, so we get all this through the characters and their attitudes. That's mostly Tremaine and Ilias, but we also have the fop turned serious soldier who still has trouble taking Tremaine seriously, the Chosen Vessel of the God coming to terms with people who are wizards but somehow not cruel and murderous the way the wizards he's known always are, the female apprentice wizard who's clearly only been allowed to get as far as she has because of national desperation…

"It's like you're two people. One of them is a flighty artist, and I like her. The other one is bloody-minded and ruthless and finds scary things funny, and I'm not sure I like her very much; but whenever we're about to die, she's the one who gets all three of us through it alive."

Oh, and the spheres that were a significant part of The Death of the Necromancer are back too, and we start to learn something about them.

Really, the only thing wrong with this as an individual book is that it cuts off very much in the middle of things; but I have the other two books available. Some readers found it slow-going and unengaging; Wells often does start slowly, I think to let the reader get the hang of the setting, and this is not the genre fantasy it might initially appear to be.

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Series: The Fall of Ile-Rien | Next in series: The Ships of Air

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