It is a more traditional fantasy focused on a court setting, with court politics, kingdom disputes and intrusions from the land of fairy defining the struggle. Viewpoint alternates between Boniface and Kade, creating a situation where the reader gets insight into each as they work to prevent the kingdom from falling to the opposition. Adding internal court politics that have their beginning in the distant past, a neighboring country with a radically different culture, as well as the realm of fae means the number of complicated elements build instead of resolve. If you are a fan of traditional fantasy, or a fan of Wells work, Id give this a go. But if you dont have large amounts of reading time, Id recommend one of her other works over The Element of Fire, particularly Nebula nominee The Death of the Necromancer, which feels like a more polished version of this work.
I normally don't like fantasy novels that revolve around court intrigue because politics bores the crap out of me, but Martha Wells has a way of making political maneuverings seem just as exciting as the battle scenes, of which there are many in this book. Fortunately Wells is good at drawing connections between those characters so you don't feel like you need to take notes to keep track of everyone.
3.5 stars rounded down because the romance is dropped like an afterthought and it fell flat, anyway considering this is a debut book Im impressed; surely this wont be my last Martha Wellss story. There all my minor gripes have been fully addressed: the characters are adult and well-rounded while the romance is just hinted at and its very, very clever.
Things didnt start becoming clearer until around page 50 or so. There were too many instances of buildup for certain plot points and then, the denouement for these things didnt deliver that satisfying sense of closure one expects, which can be frustrating. Some things seem to started to buildup to something interesting and then suddenly fizzle out. Ravenna, Thomas, Grandier, and Kade really got to shine throughout the book. I also liked that Wells magic system didnt automatically make the fay overpowered. I loved the various little pieces of the puzzle coming together throughout the book, even if I felt the ultimate reveal was very dramatic against the more mellow tone of the story, especially considering how so many points had such underwhelming conclusions.
In his place rules his only living son, the weak and ineffectual King Roland, who is utterly at the command of his treacherous childhood friend.
And it centres on the unlikely alliance that develops between Thomas Boniface, Captain of the Queen's Guard and Kade Carrion bastard, half-fay sister to the king, when the court comes under threat from forces both without and within. That was fascinating to reread knowing where it was headed and picking up on clues and bits of foreshadowing I didn't necessarily catch on first read.
I should also note that I managed to enjoy this despite my very strong aversion to faeries in fantasy literature.
Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction.