The Fall of Ile-Rien
by Martha Wells
So, it’s possible that I overdosed slightly on Martha Wells. After reading all three of The Books of the Raksura, I went immediately to the library and got Wheel of the Infinite, and after reading that, I went back and got all three books of The Fall of Ile-Rien. I loved each and every one of these books, but by The Gate of Gods, I was flagging a bit and needed a break.
However! It’s still really good and I want to read the prequels, The Element of Fire and Death of a Necromancer. I’m just aware that it’s probably a good thing that the library doesn’t have them and I’ll have to take a break to figure out how to get them through inter-library loan.
Anyway, this series starts off with a ludicrous mess of a plot that I wouldn’t have bothered reading by an unknown author. However, as I’ve mentioned before, Wells has an amazing ability to bring new life to old tropes and she does it extremely well here.
There’s a lot going on in these books: the kingdom of Ile-Rein is sort of like a magical version of a 1920s Europe, but is currently being attacked by (and losing to) an invading army that appears to come from nowhere. Tremaine Valiarde, our heroine, is from this world. It turns out the bad guys, though, are invading from a different world, although tracking exactly how is a main plotline for the series. Ilias is from a more agrarian society in an entirely different world. Also his society is a matriarchy, which allows Wells to be delightful in her exploration of gender norms and social expectations.
Normally, the thing that most attracts me to a book is the world building, but while the world building here is excellent, it’s really the characters who shine. Both Tremaine and Ilias are broken in their own ways, but also too strong to let that stop them. And while they’re not outcasts from their respective societies, neither of them quite fit in at home. Wells does an amazing job of showing how out of sync both of them are, even with their friends and family, and yet those same idiosyncrasies allow them to fit together in a way they don’t with anyone else.
Plus, I just really love how Wells approaches bringing them together. Some things simply appear impossible: there’s a war going on, there’s no time for relationships. Other things are so easy and without angst for much the same reason: there’s a war going on, no need for unnecessary waffling.
But for all that Tremaine is clearly set up as the central character, the real main character is the war itself. It is ever-present and affects everything that happens. There is a large cast of characters who are all struggling to do their best to achieve their goals, because the war doesn’t effect just one person and can’t be fought by just one person. There are dozens of main characters, all working, either together or in opposition, but all with the knowledge that something needs to be done and no one has the option to sit out these events.
I really liked this series a great deal. I think I might have a new favorite author, as well.