2003’s The Wizard Hunters is the first book in Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.
Tremaine is poring over a book on poisons, seeking a way to commit suicide without her death looking like suicide … or worse yet, murder. She is interrupted by a knock at her door. It is her guardian, Guilliame Gerard, with bad news. A test at the Viller Institute has gone horribly wrong. The Institute’s lead sorcerer is dead and lost with him is the last of the Institute’s magical spheres. This is more than a research tragedy. It is a crippling blow to Ile-Rien’s efforts to defend itself.
Ile-Rien is at war, or least it is being attacked.
Little is known about the Gardier — where they come from, who they are, what their long terms goals are — but what is known about them is this: they began attacking Ile-Rien some years before. Their airships appear and disappear without warning and are armed with weapons of prodigious power. They are somehow able to ward themselves against Ile-Rien’s weapons, magical and technological. They are implacably hostile to Ile-Rien.
The magical spheres offered the last hope of defence; with the final sphere gone, Ile-Rien faces doom. But all is not quite lost. Tremaine has inherited a prototype sphere. It is semi-intelligent, unpredictable, and responds best to her —hence cannot be fobbed off on anyone else. She puts aside her current suicide quest for an exciting foray into magical research. Which, conveniently enough, will almost certainly end with her death (as has too often happened to researchers at the Viller Institute).
Things do not develop as expected: Tremaine finds herself travelling to places utterly distant and strange. Death looms, but never arrives.
I like to start my reviews with comments re what I didn’t like about the book. Negatives first, so I can end on a positive note. Well, I am afraid I have to adopt a different strategy in this review. Wells writes too well to supply many points for critique. Even my usual moaning about series fantasy doesn’t apply here. The cover clearly indicates that this is volume one of a series, but (and this is a big but) this volume works pretty well on its own. Two thumbs up.
Tremaine’s Ile-Rien is like a Regency England with magic; it is a recognizable descendant of the kingdom that forms the background of Wells’ earlier novels, The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer. Readers are also introduced to another world, one considerably less technologically and magically advanced than Il- Rien. This is the world of the other main character in the novel, young Ilias. Tremaine and Ilias, Ile-Rien and Ilias’ world, are connected then entangled thanks to [SUPPRESSED TO PROTECT READER SUSPENSE].
I liked snarky, depressive Tremaine quite a lot. I was not as keen on Ilias, but perhaps this is only because he seemed to be stealing stage time from my favourite, Tremaine. When he and Tremaine finally meet, they make an interesting team. Effective, but conflicted: there are major cultural differences between Ile Rien and Ilias’ world. Ile-Rien uses magic like Victorian England used steam, whereas Ilias comes from a society where the common word for magic is “curse.” Watching them deal with these cultural differences was quite entertaining.
Still, I prefer Tremaine.
I first read this book for the SFBC. I read just the one book, and had no idea how the series would end. I am now in possession of the rest of the trilogy (Ships of the Air and The Gate of Gods), so I am looking forward to finding out if, and how, the Gardier are defeated. Stay tuned.