The Squee of Ile-Rien: Comments on Martha Wells’ Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy

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.

Highly recommended.

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.






Multiverses. I love them.

A Valentine For My Readers (A Spiritwalker Story)

Dear Readers,

There are days when the work flies through me and I am mighty. There are days when the work is one long slog of dragging weights behind me in the form of recalcitrant, uncooperative words. There are days I sit in despair staring at a wall mottled with self doubt. There are days I write like it is my job, which is not a bad thing when one has (presumably) skill and competence and a love for one’s work.

But every day I appreciate YOU, the ones reading my books.

I am grateful that you read them AT ALL. (I’m still kind of amazed by that.) I can work as a writer because you buy my work. I THRILL to the remarkably astute and brilliant analyses you write (& now and then mope sadly to a negative review, although negative reviews can also be useful as a perspective on the work and — as always — any review helps a writer be more visible in a crowded literary world). I adore the fan-art, and while I have to avoid reading fan-fic for legal reasons, I think it’s pretty cool that people write it. Did I mention I adore fan-art? And strange as it may seem, I really enjoy “meeting” (so to speak) and interacting with readers on social media. My books aside, I’m a reader too with the same love for reading and I never get tired of talking about books I love.


In honor of Valentine’s Day, a story for you, set in the Spiritwalker Universe. Yes, there might even be some sexual situations (fair warning).

Con or Bust Auction 2014

Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions (how to request assistance; upcoming cons). It is administered by Kate Nepveu (that’s me) under the umbrella of the Carl Brandon Society, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. Con or Bust isn’t a scholarship and isn’t limited by geography, type of con-goer, or con; its goal is simply to help fans of color go to SFF cons and be their own awesome selves.

Con or Bust is funded through donations and an online auction held each February.

That’s right: The auction is on NOW and will end at midnight February 23.


There are many many wonderful items available to bid on.

Among them, Orbit Books (and I) are offering two signed sets of the Spiritwalker Trilogy PLUS “The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal” — that auction page is here.

I’m also offering “bespoke fiction” here:

I will write a 1500-3000 word (that’s about 5 – 8 pages) story, drabble, essay, fake journal entry, descriptive passage, scene, fanfic, set of vignettes, or other form of your choice, set in the Spiritwalker universe, to a prompt(s) of your choosing.

Con or Bust Auction: Signed Set of Spiritwalker Trilogy + Secret Journal

Item Name & Description: Two signed sets of Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker series (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel, and The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal)

default Beatrice_Cover_Front

The author describes this series as “an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.” Publishers Weekly calls it “a swashbuckling series marked by fascinating world-building, lively characters, and a gripping, thoroughly satisfying story.” Orbit has donated two signed sets of these trade paperbacks.

Starting Bid: $15.

Notes: Top two bidders win (new bids must increase over the last bid). Shipping limited to the US and Canada (because of publishing rights). Because the books are being shipped by the publisher, personalization is not available.

Bidding will open Monday, February 10, 2014 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern (GMT -5); it closes Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. More Information.

TO MAKE A BID: GO TO THE CON OR BUST SITE (don’t make a bid here).