I don’t review books. I don’t have the temperament for it. But I’ve made a bit of a promise to myself this year to talk more about books I’ve read and am reading. I won’t mention everything I’ve read because I won’t keep up, but I’ll do my best.
On March 12/March 13 (Hawaii/Australia time) Justine Larbalestier and I are going to begin a discussion of women’s fiction, old school blockbusters. We begin with Jacqueline Susann’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.
But I do not like to neglect my first and most heartfelt love, sff. So today, fellow readers, I am going to go full squee on Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy, which consists of 1: THE WIZARD HUNTERS 2: THE SHIPS OF AIR & 3: THE GATE OF GODS.
I really loved Wells’ Books of the Raksura, and I’m thrilled that Raksura novellas are forthcoming later this year. But I have to say that I loved Ile-Rien as much and in some ways possibly more (without in any way down-grading my love for the Raksura universe).
Let me talk about why.
I will do my best to not inflict too many spoilers on you but there will be some, and I guarantee there will be spoilers in the comments so fair warning.
1. FoIR is fantasy, with science, with a (spoiler, see note 1 below). I could also describe it as historical science fiction, with wizards. Wells pulls this trick off neatly, and with her usual insouciant flair. Her ability to toss off this kind of difficult juggling act always impresses me. Oh, yes, you may think you are reading a story set in a fantasy version of late 19th century/early 20th century Paris with different names but it is never that simplistic. The setting is shot through with alterations that fit perfectly and then meanwhile so many new vistas are about to open that I can’t even begin to tell you about them for fear of babbling incoherently about the world building things I love and adore in this series.
Listen, you know I am hugely picky about world building. I can love a book and series for its characters even if it has a fairly standard or somewhat blandly default world; that’s cool. But not that many writers REALLY impress me with their world building. Wells consistently does. She’s INCREDIBLE. The combination of memorable characters I want to read about with world building that wows me is the exquisite fictional meal I savor above all else.
2. Everything she does with the Syprians was evidently mainlined from and for all my reading kinks.
This includes a classic example of a marvelous fantasy society that does interesting things with gender roles.
Tangential rant begins:
Yet this series is NEVER DISCUSSED when it comes time to talk about fantasy that does interesting things with cultural gender roles. The trilogy was not a huge success; I know many haven’t read it (a terrible shame). But every time I see an online conversation or essay about X new novel/writer has *finally* done something interesting with gender/women’s experience/what-have-you in fantasy, as if these sorts of explorations weren’t being done before, I want to scream. Writers (mostly women) have been doing interesting work with gender roles in sff, with women’s work, with sexuality, with varied and diverse characterization, and every time we trot out a new (or old) work as if it is the Exceptional Girl among a raft of Default Man Focus (whether the work is written by a woman or a man), we erase the footprints of this important tradition.
Tangential rant over.
The other thing Wells does really well is to only tell you the cultural details you need to know at the time you need to know them. There is no infodump, there are no long detailed descriptions, and yet I came away with a strong sense of each of the societies encountered within the three books.
3. The main character, Tremaine Valiarde, begins the trilogy depressed. Not mildly depressed but deeply depressed:
It was nine o’clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court, when someone banged on the door.
“Oh, damn.” A couple of books on poisons slid out of her lap as she struggled out of the overstuffed armchair. She managed to hold on to the second volume of Medical Jurisprudence, closing it over her fingers to mark her place. The search for the elusive untraceable poison was not going well; there were too many ways sorcerer-physicians could uncover such things and she didn’t want it to look as if she had been murdered. Intracranial hemorrhage seemed a good possibility, if a little difficult to arrange on one’s own. But I’m a Valiarde, I should be able to figure this out, she thought sourly. Dragging the blanket around her, she picked her way through the piles of books to the door. The library at Coldcourt was ideal for this, being large, eclectic and packed with every book, treatise, and monograph on murder and mayhem available to the civilized world.
IMO Wells does a brilliant job with Tremaine’s depression. It’s real. It affects how she reacts (or doesn’t react) to events and individuals as she is plunged into danger. She begins the trilogy with a bit of a flat affect that is entirely realistic. How she changes across the story is part of the story. That Tremaine is also deeply snarky and inappropriate at the wrong times just makes it all better. Also she can stare down almost anyone, and initially that is in large part due to the fact that she has a bit of a death wish and thus doesn’t care that she’s in danger.
4. Ilias. Okay, I am a sucker for physical men who are competent, level-headed, loyal, brave, well built, and amazingly good fighters. If they also are not assholes and are in fact reasonable, thoughtful people who almost never jump to conclusions, who listen to people and make mature decisions, then it’s gold. If they are also best friends with a Chosen One, and not one bit resentful at being the sidekick/bodyguard, and have a bit of an angsty back-story which they don’t belabor, it’s even better. ALL THE FEELS.
Wells excels at using the culture she has set up to refine and enhance the characterization. People behave within the societal expectations of their culture, or clash against them, or struggle to understand how to negotiate wildly different sets of cultural behaviors.
5. Many characters in this novel appealed greatly to me, large and small. Wells limns them efficiently, lets dialogue and action do most of her work, and consistently uses humor at the right moments. The ways people from different cultures misunderstand each other is believable, and the ways people of good faith cooperate even though they are misunderstanding each other is refreshing. I would say more but I’m trying to write this main review without spoilers. There are in fact many secondary characters and I had no trouble keeping them all straight.
6. THE WIZARD HUNTERS (book one) had a bit of a slow start for me. There was nothing *wrong* with it. Well is always solid. The world(s) and (catastrophic) situation is carefully set up and revealed. It was intriguing enough to interest me. However I got hooked at a very specific place, where the two main storylines meet, somewhere around page 90 in the edition I was reading. It wasn’t that I found it boring before that — by no means — but from that point on I couldn’t stop reading until I had read all three books. There was, alas, a bit of a delay because I had reserved book 2 from the library and it had to come from another branch. I read book 2 and 3 basically in one weekend. I INHALED them.
So IF book one has a bit of a slow start for you, stick with it. For other readers it won’t have a slow start at all. As always, YMMV.
7. I checked out the first two books from the library. However I have had to buy e-versions so I can re-read certain passages OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
There is much more I can say about the book but I will leave that for comments.
If you have read the Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy, please join up in the comments.
I AM ALLOWING SPOILERS IN COMMENTS.
Note 1 (from above): THIS IS A TECHNICAL SPOILER EVEN THOUGH IT COMES EARLY IN BOOK ONE.
Multiverses. I love them.
I, too, am a HUGE fan of The Fall of Ile-Rien books. As someone who has struggled with severe depression all of her life, the character of Tremaine grabbed me by the throat right from the beginning. The description of her search for a way to kill herself without it being obviously suicide is spot on. However, one of my favorite lines in the first book comes when describing how she joined the workers searching for survivors in the rubble of war in an attempt to get herself killed in an unobtrusive way:
“She probably still couldn’t hit a lawn tennis ball properly, but she could climb, scramble over, under and through rubble like a squirrel, dodge flying debris, and when a ghoul had leapt out at her from a half-collapsed cellar the instinct to beat it to pieces with a lead pipe had triumphed over the will to die.”
I can’t explain why that particular image struck me so strongly, but it did. Tremaine is probably my favorite character in SFF. I say ‘probably’ because I don’t really sit around putting deep thought into which book/character/world/etc… is my favorite. But I love her… deeply. The FoIR series is one of my go-to reads when I am feeling down.
My favorite series by my favorite author. My youngest daughter is named Tremaine.
Love all of Martha’s books so much that I inflicted copies on my future husband when we were dating, got him hooked on the Ile-Rien books and Wheel of the Infinite.
As a reader, at the time it never occurred to me to think about the gender roles that were being upset, I just enjoyed the amazing storytelling and characters. But, I can’t picture any other character taking the place of Tremaine and Ilias (or Maskelle and Rian in Wheel).
I squeed with delight when characters from Death of the Necromancer made their appearance in the Fall of Ile-Rien series and their roles were perfect.
Now I want to find time to re-read all of them starting from the Element of Fire. Why is there not enough free time in a day?
Yes! That’s a great image.
I also love the bit where they are crossing a cleft on a plank bridge, and she looks down and has that moment where she realizes she could throw herself off (and then doesn’t) — and Ilias, watching her, *understands* what is going on in her head.
The way the depression slowly lifts is just so well done. Gradually the “flat affect” of her personality in the beginning lifts, not at all once but in a way that feels really believable to me.
Now there’s a high compliment!
I don’t know why there isn’t enough free time in a day. Really for me the point in Wizard Hunters where I was hooked was the moment Tremaine and Ilias met.
I picked up The Wizard Hunters on your recco recently, and am so glad I did. I was hooked from the beginning by the voice–the deadly seriousness peppered with wit and naked truths that might or might not be the best things to say aloud. What I highly admire is Wells’ ability to introduce and maintain a complex world without slowing the story or leaving the reader in the dark.
Alas, I can’t yet talk much more about it as I’m only about halfway through the first book! 🙂
I came to The Wizard Hunters having read DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER and ELEMENT OF FIRE (the former being my first Martha Wells, since I was in a “Read award nominees as a way to discover writers mode”. So I saw the connections between the Wizard Hunter novels.
At the time (and still as it happens) in a long running PBEM game I was running, part of the plot revolved around an invasion force from another universe. So I was inclined to like this series, even if it does start slowly.
And reading Tremaine’s depression was hard–because of my own issues.
This is the series that hooked me on Wells’ work. I would loved to have seen dozens of books in this series! I love these books so hard that I have them in French….because if I’m going to practice reading, it will be with something I love ;o)
I am a HUGE Fall of Ile Rien fan. I recommend it regularly to anyone who asks me what fantasy they should read next. So sad that this series doesn’t get the love and respect it deserves.
Like you, so far these continue to be my favourites of hers (Though I haven’t read the Emilie books, pout.) Tremaine is fabulous. The way the entire two different cultures meeting is handled – especially the bit when the moment it’s discovered that something anathema in one is much more normal in the other, nobody goes flying off the handle in a big drama or assuming the worst of people they had trusted to that moment – had me just about yelling, “Why do I feel like this is novel and I’ve never seen it before?”
Similarly, throughout her works, I am addicted to her “mature people dealing with relationships without drama”, that she looks to other story tensions instead of falling into romantic tension tropes because they’re quick and easy.
At first I thought Tremaine’s flatness was unconvincing depression, because the thigns you hear about in general are often the most explicit “I want to kill myself point”. But the more I know, the truer it rings. (Actual conversation with a friend recently: “How are you?”* “Apathetic.”)
* She knows when I ask her, I really want the answer, however bad, not the nice “make conversation”.
my god, i could have written almost every word of this including all the bits about loving the raksura novels but maybe loving these more. i think i’ve reread them five times now. one thing that i love is how the (SPOILER ALERT) relationship between tremaine and ilias comes about and evolves–i love them separately but i love them so much together–the way that they each can make space for the other one to be themselves. and the revelation of who that gardier that we’ve been following turns out to be–that whole sequence is just brilliant. squee, indeed!!!
I’ve read this series a good five or six times, and not only is it a series I recommend to anyone who asks me about a good book but it is also one I’ve basically shoved into the hands of friends and demanded they read.
Tremaine is one of my very favorite fictional characters. Ever. She’s damaged, she’s broken, and guess what? She does find a reason to live by the end of the series, but she’s still Tremaine. She’s doesn’t miraculously start walking on the sunny side of the street. I cannot express how much I love Wells for doing this. Tremaine wants to live. That’s enough transformation. She’s not a Disney heroine, thank goodness. She doesn’t need to transform into So!Happy!Tremaine! by the end of the series. (Well, she is her father’s daughter, isn’t she?)
One of the things I loved about the trio of Tremaine and Ilias and Giliead is how during the course of the trilogy we find out how similar Tremaine is to Giliead. Ilias recognizes this from the get-go, I think, but it takes until the end of the series for Gil and Tremaine to understand each other, to let down their respective guards and stand together without needing Ilias as a conduit. (The final fight in Cineth with the other Chosen One where Tremaine realizes with a start that Gil’s flat dead look of rage is one she’s seen on herself in the mirror made me jump up and realize – hey! so that’s why Ilias understands her so well!) But here is where Wells departs from the usual tired old love triangle plot device. Ilias loves Tremaine. Ilias loves Giliead. There it is. There’s no jealousy involved here – neither Tremaine or Giliead are trying to sabotage the other. Tremaine isn’t a perfectly nice heterosexual replacement for Ilias’s wink-wink nudge-nudge bromance. There’s none of that going on. There’s no drama, no angst, no ultimate there can be only one and one of you has to die and/or fall in love with someone else resolution being shoved at us yet once again. I tell you, I loved the plot twists, I am breathless over her mastery of world-building (I’ve got everything she’s ever written, and she never repeats herself in terms of world-building) and her supporting characters are amazing (Florian! Kias, you tomcat! Everyone with the last name of Aviler!) and there are a thousand reasons to love these books, but I always come back to the fact that Wells never feels the need to default to anything. She writes her own story, and “acceptable” plot devices and story tropes be damned.
Yes, that is another moment in the book that felt very real to me. Several years ago, I wrote a post on my blog Donkey Sense about my struggle with anxiety and depression. Near the end of the very long post, I wrote:
“At it’s very worst, I have to literally fight the compulsion to kill myself. I don’t know how to describe that compulsion adequately. It is very different from simply thinking about killing yourself. It is not abstract in the least, it is a very real struggle against an emotional imperative. The closest I can come is to compare it to the struggle not to breathe when you have been underwater a long time. You know you have to wait until you reach the surface, but your body just wants to take that breath in, no matter that you are still surrounded by water. If you stay under water long enough, you eventually give in to that desire to breathe and you drown. You can’t help it, the physiological imperative overcomes your knowledge that you will drown. Fighting the compulsion to suicide is like fighting not to breathe under water. I have to continually convince myself that sooner or later I will reach the surface, and if I can just hold on till then, I can survive. And yes, I am afraid that someday that emotional imperative will overcome my knowledge that I will die.”
I think that only people who have struggled against a suicidal compulsion can truly understand what I mean. I still struggle with depression, but things are not as bad as they used to be. I hope you don’t mind me sharing.
I am such a Martha Wells fan, and it pains me that she is not more famous because her books are fabulous.
I bought a first-run copy of “City of Bones” when it came out, and she got me hooked immediately with her immaculate world-building skills. I picked up “The Wizard Hunters” when it was released and became a fan for life. (Can’t wait for “Emilie and the Sky World!”)
I don’t know how many times I’ve re-read The Fall of Ile-Rien series. (In fact, I started reading it again last night!) I’ve got it in paperback and digital. Every time I read the series, I notice something new.
I was hooked at the same point you were, when Tremaine and Ilias meet. Like many, I see myself in Tremaine and her depression, but the Syprians are such interesting characters! The whole Syprian world is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I’d love to see a story set at the Wall Port.
My favorite parts are on the Ravenna, and I wish I could experience seeing a grand ship like that, almost deserted, for the first time.
I’ve always wondered whether Vienne was based on Paris or Vienna. I can see it as both at different times in history.
I discovered this trilogy when you recommended them on Twitter and, this past weekend, I had one of those horrible days when I needed something else to do and then I remembered that you had said these were amazing and, lo and behold, I could get them on my Kindle.
I read the entire trilogy in 30 hours. It was amazing and everything about it worked (complex characters! thoughtful world-building! reasonable attitudes towards sex! relationships that are taken seriously but also subordinated to the plot because the world needs to be saved!).
Thank you for such a well-thought out review of my favourite trilogy by my favourite SFF author. Martha does such an excellent job of portraying strong female characters and she presents this great dynamic with equally strong and snarky male characters who are nevertheless accepting of the female’s strengths. Excellent world-building too, and she incorporates all you need to know about the different worlds/cultures and the tensions involved right into the story without breaking the pace with tedious info-dumps. This is a rare skill in a storyteller and I hope your review will enable a lot more people to discover Martha’s delightful novels. I’ve read all of her stuff and yes, I re-read them especially the Fall of Ile Rien trilogy.
I started reading Martha on your rec and immediately bought them all. I am not exaggerating. When you find a new author of this quality, you have to keep reading. So far I have no complaints at all.
Tremaine is one of my favorite heroes and The Fall of Ile-Rien is one of my favorite trilogies ever. Like someone else said, every time I read the books I find something new or notice how Wells did something which I missed before (and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the trilogy and all of Martha Wells’ books).
One of the things I love about these books is how the female and male characters save each other and that is perfectly normal and reasonable–there are no damsels in distress here!
Also competence porn! With women! Tremaine is seriously good at some things, no matter how much she doubts herself at times, and it is such a relief (and so much fun) to read about her doing things well.
I am glad you find this a safe space to share.
I think that is a powerful analogy. As always I am struck by how fiction has the power to pull us as readers into places that allow us to find pieces of ourselves, or bits of strength on which to keep moving forward, or a calm place in which to recover, or a spark of insight — etc. It’s an amazing interaction between the writer and reader that can’t entirely be explained, but it is precious.
I will say no more, but I so agree with your point about how she blends dead seriousness with fabulous wit. It’s hard to do well, and she’s a master of it.
I think Tremaine’s depression is one of the most interesting aspects of how the narrative works. It’s dealt with subtly but powerfully imho and her slow recovery (and the sense that she will never wholly recover in some ways) underpins so much of how she deals with the circumstances into which she is thrown.
Yes, I could read another trilogy — just to start with!
How is the French translation?
I know, I’m also sad. I know that not every book can gain fame and fortune but I think Wells is such a consistently interesting and intelligent writer that I wish the market had done better by her.
What strikes me so much is how original she is in the ways in which she mixes up plot elements and deploys them. I don’t see enough sff criticism that tackles writers like Wells (overmuch focus on a the same few [usually white male] writers as the “most original” in the field when I’m really not so sure they are — but that may just be me being bitter).
Yes, I think it’s actually a really well done portrait of depression because of the flat affect and the apathy. We do tend to get handed the more dramatic kind — which is also real — it’s just that there are multiple ways to portray depression and it is, I think, important to see this done in this way as well.
One of the things I adore about the Syprian/Syrnai culture is the refreshing way conflict is handled — mostly out in the open (although not always). That was one of my favorite things!
Yes, I totally utterly love Tremaine and Ilias together and how Wells allows them to be strong individuals who are (mostly) reasonable and who talk things through (almost always) like adults. I just love them.
Yes. I agree with all of this. I especially like your analysis of the Chosen One element and how Ilias fits into that. And I too noticed that Tremaine at the end of the trilogy is still a person struggling to come to terms with her long damaged self, and she probably always will be struggling, but she makes a choice that will be healthy for her in the best way.
I think the Syprians may have vaulted into one of my all time favorite fantasy cultures ever in a million years.
I assumed Vienne was Paris for some reason but you’re right that Vienna would work too.
This is the best!
Books like these are sometimes the only thing that makes a horrible day bearable.
I read books 2 and 3 basically in one gulp. Will have to re-read because I am sure I missed so much due to mainlining.
It’s been so great to read so many wonderful comments from readers who love her work. I just wish there were 10,000 times more of us!
Oh good! She’s simply one of the best fantasy writers of the last 15 years, I think.
Yes! All this!
And Tremaine is good at some things but not at everything. Even Ilias and Gilead, who are awfully good fighters, have things they’re not good at.
I love the term competence porn, and this trilogy has it all over the place with so many of the characters.
I was impressed by how many secondary characters she has who aren’t even vastly important to the plot and yet I got involved with them as well.
Yes, Wells uses the term “fey” – as in a “fey look” to describe both Tremaine and Giliead and how they are not quite the same as everyone else. (A term that was also used to describe Arisilde, as it happens, another Chosen One.) The fact that Ilias immediately grokked Tremaine and was completely comfortable with her – a woman whom no one was comfortable with, not even her own father – was clearly because he’d had nearly a lifetime of practice already dealing with Gil. I once spent an extremely pleasurable afternoon thumbing through my books and picking out all the moments where Tremaine and Gil resemble each other and how Ilias handles them in exactly the same way. It’s such clever and intelligent writing.
Now I have to do the same. I did not make this connection as strongly as you did so I’m quite excited to see this analysis.
This is a classic example of a piece of extremely careful, precise, and intelligent writing whose full complexity and intricacy has doubtless been ignored by critics too busy chasing the self-defined “edgy” and “bold.” Not that I’m bitter about how works like Ile-Rien get overlooked OR ANYTHING.
Thank goodness she’s not good at everything–it would be a very short book if she succeeded at suicide right in the beginning. But yes, everyone is believably good at some things and not good at others, but it’s not melodramatic, just part of everyone’s (normal) experience.
Also, I forgot to say I love how who Tremaine is comes as a natural outgrowth of who her father is and how he raised her and her reactions to those things. Nicholas is not a normal parent and did not have normal parenting skills.
And yes, the secondary characters! Florian, Lady Aviler (?), Reynard, Arites and (I love to hate them) Ander and Visolela. But even the last two are so understandably, humanly despicable at times. But not all times (Well, except Ander, maybe).
Long time Martha Wells fan here, too. I’ve reread her other stuff multiple times, but haven’t reread the Fall of Ile-Rien for some reason. You have prompted me to do that. The books are somewhere in the house, but I fear they’ve gone feral and will be hard to locate. (I know they’re not together. Alas. This happens when you read a trilogy as it comes out, instead of when it’s all complete. Also, when your book organization is sadly deficient.)
Chiming in late but a couple of things. Yes, I agree it was slow, I actually skipped some of the opening scenes with Ilias in the Wizard Hunters because I was bored. Once he met up with Tremaine, I got over that though. Oh yeah, lots of spoilers probably, so avert your eyes now.
I enjoyed Tremaine and Ilias, which is unusual, since I rarely like canon ships. Part of it may have been because Tremaine is snarky and socially awkward(?) I relate to that. People have said a lot of stuff about Tremaine and Ilias that I would agree with, find intriguing. I also like how friends mattered, although Tremaine didn’t have friends per se, that came out more with Ilias and Gil. That closeness Ilias and Gil have actually reminded me a bit of Bee and Cat, not in a bad way mind, but I think that proposing that platonic friend love is just as valid and important as romantic love is radical.
I greatly enjoyed the Syprians too and how they handled the prejudices and Ile-Rien to some extent as well.
I loved how she created female characters of all different types, being HUMAN. Like not everyone was going to be like Tremaine and she is obviously a heroine, but given her family history, it made sense that she was the way she was. But like Florian’s development I found to be believable but at the same time, she wasn’t a mini-Tremaine.
I actually feel like I need to re-read the series, as I’ve only read it once, per your recommendation, Kate!
Haha. Very true about the beginning. One of the things I admire about how Tremaine’s depression is portrayed is that because she sees herself from her own point of view (and without the perspective of modern psychoanalysis), we see it all so internally. And its development is internal. Wells never succumbs to the lure of jumping outside of Tremaine’s own understanding to create that portrait.
I felt I understood Visolela. Ander I never quite got — for the longest time I thought he was going to be a villain but then it just turned out he was an asshole. As Ilias had sorted out at once.
I wonder how differently I would have reacted to the books had I had to wait a year for each volume. Some series books I don’t mind waiting — and indeed there are a few series books where I am glad to have a break between each one. But others, that I’ve discovered after many were out (or the series is complete) I have really enjoyed wallowing in the world. The period across which I read this trilogy I became so immersed in the world while I was reading that it was a shock to emerge from it.
I don’t talk about it in the main post, but I really truly LOVED the Gil/Ilias relationship. Their utter trust in each other is so appealing. How they understand each other; don’t let each other get away with stupid shit; are always there.
I agree: I think in general in the current marketplace of tropes, the idea (once more prominent in the older epics) that friendship is a central relationship in a person’s life is radical because it keeps getting overwhelmed by the romantic couple idea. One of the things I loved about Pacific Rim was that even though I personally could ship Mako/Raleigh as a romantic couple, the film can totally be read as them being a tight platonic friendship — and it doesn’t alter the narrative either way.
Also — I am glad people do as I command (or recommend, anyway)!
I’ve read and enjoyed every book Martha Wells has ever written, but the Île-Rien books will always have a special place in my heart (not just this trilogy, but the earlier ones as well). The first book I read by her was Death of the Necromancer, and it completely blew me away – it instantly came, and continues to be, one of my favourite books of all time.
So I snapped up the Fall of Île-Rien books as soon as they came out – well, the first one as soon as it came out, and then later the second and third together, because due to distribution issues (that I later found out were due to publisher horribleness), they were harder to find.
Looking over the comments above, I blush to admit that I can’t remember who some of the secondary characters are! So clearly, it’s time I re-read the whole lot.
I definitely agree that you can’t go wrong with a re-read! One of the things I like about the secondary characters is that some are clearly there because they are necessary to the plot while others are there because they round out of the world building or the character work. Some novelists never allow any “extraneous” character who is directly tied in to the plot movement or the main character(s)’s narrative arc, but I rather like the existence of people who make the world seem like such a real place.
“The books are somewhere in the house, but I fear they’ve gone feral and will be hard to locate.”
LOL! For some reason the image of books you haven’t read in a while turning feral and roaming about your house strikes me as strangely wonderful.
To be honest, Tremaine’s depression is part of what put me off the books at first.
I had loved, loved, loved The Death of the Necromancer (I spent the entire summer of 1999 rereading the paperback at least a dozen times), so I was thrilled when a sequel came out, but being plunged into Tremaine’s suicidal mindset, seeing the whole civilization falling apart around her, came as a really nasty shock after the happy ending of Necromancer .
Additionally, it bothered me that these books were supposed to be sequels, but there was very little mention of the characters from the previous books except in the context of Tremaine’s story. They were just – absent, and the reader was supposed not to care about that and to focus on all the new characters. I ended up waiting until all three books were published, then skimming for mentions of Nicholas, Madeleine, Reynard, and Arisilde, before finally reading the entire trilogy properly.
I think Wells made a mistake in setting the trilogy just a generation after the previous book. If Nicholas had been Tremaine’s grandfather rather than father, I think I would have been much more inclined to enjoy the Tremaine’s story on its own merits rather than hoping for a continuation of his.
Now, ten years later, I can and do go back to the books and enjoy them for what they are, and appreciate how unique it is to have a depressed main character. At the time, it really bothered me.
Martha Wells is one of my favorite authors. I think someone already commented on this, but I too appreciate the lack of romantic histrionics in her books. I don’t mind romance, but gosh does it annoy me when that’s the female character’s main preoccupation. “Oh! I am in a life or death situation, but all I can think about is how I am torn between my attraction to both the dark, broody man and the sunny, charming man!” As you are sort of talking about female authors who never made it big, I have to make a reference to Kristine Smith who had a fabulous hard SF series in the early 2000s called Code of Conduct. It is always frustrating when authors you love drift into obscurity.
Kristine Smith is another WONDERFUL writer.
That’s really interesting, and it completely makes sense. I don’t know how I would have felt if I had read them soon after reading DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER. The other characters would, indeed, loom large. And the contrast between Tremaine and Nicholas is pretty stark, even while they are also alike in some ways.
But of course in my case I came into it cold, so wasn’t carrying that baggage. The question of what we bring into any given book is a curious one: I have started books I wasn’t able to read for all sorts of odd reasons that had nothing to do with the book itself really.