Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks is the first book in the Elemental Logic series, with engaging characters, interesting conflicts, and an exciting storyline. Fire Logic follows the initial invasion of the peaceful country of Shaftal, the meetings of Zanja and Karis, and their struggles to heal themselves and start playing an active role in ending the conflict.

I do recommend it, both as a lead in to the series and in its own right, and it is a fun and thoughtful addition to the list of gay and lesbian fantasy.

As the setting of the Elemental Logic series is well developed and to prevent the reviews of each book getting to long and repetitive, you can find an overview of the societies, characters, sexual mores and magic here: The Elemental Logic Series by Laurie J. Marks

The Characters

Zanja is our narrator and protagonist through most of the story. Dark haired and dark skinned, she stands out among the stockier, brown haired Shaftalese. The Speaker of her small tribe, the Ashawala'i, her job is to travel, negotiate and trade, and learn how other peoples think in order to advise her own people. A Fire elemental with minor powers of prescience, and the typical intuitiveness, she is torn between multiple cultures and doesn't really fit in with her tribe anymore.

Most of the story is Zanja's, first her early encounters in Shaftal, her years of watching the Sainnites take over, and her endless warnings to her elders. And then after her tribe's destruction, and her rescue from prison by Karis, it follows her active role in the Shaftal military, until the story becomes about Karis, and turns away from the war, with Zanja as both catalyst of and swept up in events.

Emil is a scholar and part of the Paladin order (the military of Shaftal). The story opens with him moments away from viewing the founding document of Shaftal, a treatise on community and fairness written by the very first G'deon, when news of the destruction of the ruling centre of Shaftal arrives. He then has to abandon his studious dreams, and takes up a military role. Years later, he is the successful, if weary, commander of the group Zanja joins, becoming her close friend and supporter.

Karis is the secret heart of the story, the crippled power of Shaftal. A blonde half giant (unsure if they're actual giants or just really, really huge people), she's an enormous, powerful woman and an Earth witch, who was invested with the power of Shaftal by the last G'deon on his deathbed. However, she's also a smoke addict, addicted by her owner as a child to make her more pliable in the brothel. She lives in passive secrecy, working metal with unparallelled genius, under the watchful, loving, and rigid eye of her friend and guardian Norina, and protected by the last surviving councilor of Shaftal. She considers herself flawed and broken, guided by the opinions of her guardians, and doesn't begin to step outside of her boundaries until Zanja sparks her into life

Due to her Earth elemental nature, she naturally experiences connections through touch, where Fire elemental Zanja is happier with intellectual connections and imagination. They do end up together, and theirs is the solid, unspoken undercurrent that binds much of the story's pieces and moves the plot forward.

The non-narrating characters that play a major roles are Medric, the young half-Sainnite seer who begins the story directing the Sainnite troops, but gradually comes to see that he's on the wrong side, and Norina, the formidable and devoted Air elemental who acts as Karis' protector, and does her best to keep Zanja away from Karis.

The Plot

The first part of the book deals with the first major attack by the Sainnites, and how it affects our characters, after which we skip over the next fifteen years fairly quickly, with summaries and encounters from Zanja. Despite her frequent warnings about Sainnite brutality, which grows increasingly irrational in the face of constant rebellion, her peaceful and traditional tribe ignores her.

Until the Sainnites mark them for destruction, out of misguided panic and vindictiveness, and Zanja is left a broken survivor, lost in a forbidding jail for a year, slowly dying. Karis senses her, and finally walks out from under the noses of her would-be keepers, her sentient raven in tow, heals her many, many injuries, and carries her safely away. This independence on Karis' part sends her friend and keeper, Norina, into a panic, and she forces them to separate. Zanja is then placed with Emil's company, and finds a close friend in the weary and crippled commander. She is part of the resistance for some time, slowly becoming accepted by the Shaftalese, who are generally racist and suspicious of this one different looking person.

Unfortunately the Sainnites have a Seer. Fortunately, he's young, and he's been having a change of heart, and plans to defect. Unfortunately, Norina and her superior Mabin don't know that, so they panic and try as hard as possible to remove Zanja from his vicinity, lest her connection to Karis lead him to her. This leads to Zanja and Emil leaving the resistance, with Emil going off and meeting Medric, and Zanja returning to Karis. Shortly after, Karis is kidnapped, and kept docile by an increased level of smoke... after a daring rescue, the assorted central characters (including Norina, newborn left behind and gentle husband in tow), manage to smuggle Karis away into the wilderness, where Karis finally starts coming into her own, and she and Zanja finally start admitting they love each other. Or would, if one of them was capable of it.

Criticisms and Discussion

It may come across as confusingly chaotic and unstructured to some readers, especially on the first read through, mostly because the first fifteen years are skipped through quite erratically. We are introduced to all the characters in one way or another, but don't discover how they fit together until after Zanja starts taking an active role in the conflict, fifteen years later.

However, this is apparently a deliberate narrative choice that reflects the equally erratic progress of the Sainnite invasion, and the scattered ripple effects on the lives of Zanja and the Shaftalese. It works much better on a second read.

The author focuses a lot more on the action than the introspection. The wishywashy emotional stuff tends not to be delved into or described in much detail. It's there, but only when their feelings are strong enough to interfere with their actual normal functioning. We don't get a lot of introspection or declarations of love and long discussions about how to make things work. Everyone just accepts what is going on, and moves from there.

Our two pairs of lovers fall very easily in love, so fast that I wasn't quite sure what had happened for a while. Emil and Medric's relationship presumably develops offscreen, but they appear to just fall into each other's arms and continue on in a happy haze forever. Karis and Zanja are clearly of the 'soul mate' variety, and have valid reasons to be drawn to each other, but if you aren't paying a lot of attention, the fact they are in love can be a bit of a surprise.

The plot feels a bit unresolved, especially the way it suddenly wanders off and ignores the fighting, delving instead into personal development and internal Shaftal politics. However, that's largely explained by a) it's part of a series, and this was a necessary part of the overall plotline and b) it isn't just about the Shaftal invasion, it's about Karis and Zanja. Still, the conflict was so present for much of the story that it seems strange that it directly affected the last part so little.

Buying the Book

Fire Logic (originally published in 2002 by Tor Fantasy and being republished in 2012 as Fire Logic (10th Anniversary Edition) by Small Beer Press) is currently not available on Kindle, but probably will be when Small Beer Press republishes it.

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