2015 is off to a good start

Earth Logic — Laurie J. Marks
Elemental Logic, book 2


Second in the Elemental Logic series, 2004’s Earth Logic answers the question “Was Fire Logic a fluke or can Marks write that well consistently?” Answer: “Marks can write that well consistently.” So yay, one more review for 2015 without hitting a dud.

Earth Logic picks up five years after Fire Logic left off. The kingdom of Shaftal is still occupied by an army of Sainnites. Much to the frustration of her loved ones and followers, Karis, who is still concealing her identity and the fact that she is the current G’Deon (ruler of Shaftal) from the general population, does not seem inclined to take active steps to drive the invaders from Shaftali lands.

The situation is hardly more satisfactory from the Sainnite point of view. It has been thirty-five years since they fled their old homeland to invade Shaftal and they are no closer to pacifying their new home. Worse yet, the Sainnites are not really a people, but a military troop forced by imminent defeat to migrate. Military troops are not generally known for their high birthrates. Even though the Sainnites include both men and women, they are no exception. The few mixed race Sainnite-Shaftal youths who join their father’s army are no match for the ongoing drumbeat of casualties. Each year sees fewer Sainnites. Going on in the old manner means certain doom, but any other path would require change … and the Sainnites are terrible at accepting change.

A third factor complicates the situation. Although Karis is G’Deon, this is a closely held secret and what exactly happened after the previous G’Deon died is for most people a matter of speculation, conjecture and rumour. A fanatic named Willis convinces himself that he has had a vision of the “Lost” G’deon, who is calling for a final solution to the Sainnite problem. While Willis is obviously deluded, his message is welcome to Shaftali who have seen their relatives killed and wealth stolen. He attracts a cadre of equally fanatical, equally violent extremists. The fact that Willis has access to some really innovative incendiary rockets only makes the situation even more fraught, because it is well within his power to provoke a particularly outrageous response from the Sainnites. That is, of course, exactly what he does.

Karis (as well as her late predecessor) has a good reason for inactivity: there’s no clear path to victory over the Sainnites that does not leave the Shaftali horribly transformed. What is the point of driving the Sainnites into the sea if in the process the Shaftali become the sort of people who would drive their enemies into the sea?

There is a third way but Karis and her lover Zanja will pay dearly for it. Even then, success depends on both the Shaftali and the Sainnites being able to take a mental step for which neither side has previously shown any capacity.

This volume accomplishes a number of goals, some of which would appear to be mutually exclusive. It’s a solid sequel to the first novel in the series but new readers could pick this up and have no trouble following along. It can stand alone as a novel but readers will be left wondering what happens after Karis’s grand scheme is implemented; Karis may be able to bend iron or collapse walls with an act of will but her gambit depends on human factors she cannot control. She’s asking an awful lot from the peoples of Shaftal.

My one quibble would be over something that is probably inherent in magical universes. If characters are from time to time subject to influences from forces beyond human ken, it’s hard to see any logic behind some of the things they do. That logic is beyond human ken, and my ken is, alas, limited to human. Fortunately Marks does manage to convince me that it all makes sense, even if I don’t completely understand the necessity of every intermediate step between the situation Karis and Zanja are in at the beginning of the book and where they are at the end of it.

Intermediate volumes in series are too often placeholders. The fact that Marks managed to avoid the usual pitfalls of series novels inclines me to rate Earth Logic a bit higher than Fire Logic. It also leaves me quite keen to see how things play out in Water Logic and Air Logic.

Fire Logic, Earth Logic, and Water Logic are all available from Small Beer Press. I regret to say that Air Logic is not yet available.

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