The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, Book One)

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, Book One)
Martha Wells, 2003

Premise: Tremaine lives in a world at war. Her home, the nation of Ile-Rien, has been besiged for years by the people known to them as the Gardier. They come in airships to bomb the cities, can disable engines and mechanisms from afar, and nothing Rien's highly educated sorcerers have come up with has been able to defend them. Somewhere both close and very far away, Ilias and Giliead live in a fishing village. There are indications that a wizard may be operating on the Isle of Storms, and they go to investigate. They are ready to kill, since of course all wizards are corrupt and insane. Tremaine's heirloom, a mysterious sphere, holds the key to a spell that will change the course of the war and bring two very different cultures face to face.

Now this is fabulous world-building. Ile-Rien is at a vaguely late-Victorian level of technology, plus some very civilized magic. Sypria is at a medieval level, plus a relationship with local gods and a pathological distrust of magic. The confrontation between the worlds does run the risk of feeling obvious when I describe it that way, but the characters are so unique and well drawn that I completely accepted both points of view.

Tremaine is a fantastic character from the first page. The last daughter of a somewhat checkered family, her inital melancholy introspection is soon driven into action. She is a mass of contradictory forces: well-spoken and well-educated but with a streak of only slightly buried violence and a fierce determination to win.

Ilias and Giliead I had a slightly harder time with at first, because their setting and mindset is so different that I didn't see how the two plots could fit together. Eventually I really liked them as well, though: fearless warriors with a dark sense of sardonic humor from a society that needs them but doesn't fully appreciate them.

I really enjoyed all the supporting characters as well; there is a complex web of allegiances which is constantly shifting. Hanging over the character drama is the looming threat of the Gardier, whose motives seem inscrutable. There is a huge reveal late in the book that was masterfully done, and while I expected a twist of some sort, I didn't imagine it would be so fascinating.

While I wouldn't characterize this book as extremely brilliant or ground-breaking, I did completely adore it, and I moved immediately on to Book Two.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book


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