2004’s The Ships of Air is the second volume in Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It follows immediately on The Wizard Hunters, which I reviewed here.
The book begins on a high note (the same one on which the previous volume ended): Tremaine and her friends have captured a Gardier outpost! Victory is surely theirs, because that is how it works at the beginning of the second book in a trilogy.
There are just two small problems: Firstly, Tremaine and her friends are in a parallel universe. Secondly, they have no means to get home.
When an Ile-Rien ship, the Ravenna appears, it is their salvation. The ship is equipped with the means to travel between universes. The ship is the refuge of one of the heirs to Ile-Rien throne. Possibly the only heir if her royal siblings have suffered misfortune.
Oh, and there are some potential local allies. The Syprians see all magic as cursed; all technology with which they are unfamiliar must be magic; BUT they hate the Gardier as much or more than the universe-hoppers do.
The hoppers could also ally with Ixion, a local wizard who has been captured by the Syprians and languishes in chains. This may be a bad idea, as Ixion is a fine example of the Syprian stereotype that all magicians are mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
The Ile-Rienians prudently opt to ally with the superstitious paranoid locals and not the crazed wizard. A sensible move. There is a cost, however:
An arranged marriage to cement the alliance: Tremaine to wed a Syprian, Ilias…
As arranged-marriages-contracted-under-duress go, this one works out pretty well. Take that, mutually infatuated Veronese teens!
There is an odd Andre Norton feel to this story, although Wells’ prose is far superior to Norton’s, whose writing was often merely adequate. I suspect what I am picking up are a few parallels to Witch World: the otherworldly invaders, the transcultural romances, cultures with weird, plot-enabling taboos, and so on. Not unique to Norton but since she’s where I encountered them, she’s the author I think of.
What’s not clear to me is whether Wells has a consistent model for how magic works behind the three approaches we see or whether the phenomena lumped together under magic are in fact very different things. Yes, I could ask the author but it is more fun to work it out from the text.
This is very much a middle novel: the characters spend a lot of time exploring their new worlds. The discovery that the Gardier are from yet another parallel world, using Ilias’ world as a stepping stone to Ile-Rien, is in fact nowhere near the largest unexpected revelation in the book. The adventurers learn more about their enemies, but what they learn only raises more questions. As a middle novel goes, this one works. I kept reading, and plan to read the last in the trilogy.
The Ships of Air here is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).
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