An earlier entry in the Martha Wells oeuvre, City of Bones nicely balances her intricate, almost mystery-styled plots with her imaginative world-building. It’s admirable how the author manages a certain baroque richness to the prose, while maintaining a fairly action-packed, complex plot. The setting is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a rigid caste system and strange rituals. Two outsiders stumble upon a mysterious artifact, and ultimately, a sinister world-threatening plan. The magic is magical and weird, and the suspense “pulse-pounding.” In a way, City of Bones fits into the New Weird aesthetic championed by China Mieville, in that it’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, with a dash of science fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure. Fans of Mieville and Tanith Lee should check this book out.
I’d always planned on reading THE DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER but it was out of print by the time I got around to it. Thanks to technology, the novel has a new life. It’s a kind of “gaslight” fantasy, set in an ancient city that has overtones of Belle Epoch Paris and Dickensian London where magic exists alongside steam trains and gas lights. Vienne, with its decadent Great Houses, predatory aristocracy and pockets of ruin, is a character in it’s own right. The master criminal Nicholas Valiardre is the debonair, dashing hero. (I cast Ryan Gosling as Valiardre). The female lead, the actress and amateur sorceress Madeline is a secondary POV–I saw Jennifer Lawrence in this role. The plot of a mix of court intrigue, mystery and penny dreadful. References include Dangerous Liaisons, the works of Dumas and the Gothic fiction of LeFanu or Gaston Leroux.
When I was in my teens, I was obsessed with the work of Andre Norton. Her science fiction/fantasy books were muscular with action, full of strange, slightly trippy imagery and featured outcasts and misfits as their lead characters. Martha Wells’ THE SERPENT SEA, the second in her Books of the Raksura series, is imbued with the spirit those Norton books.
Wells’ Raksura novels take place in on an alien science-fantasy world called the Three Worlds. The Raksura are shape-shifters: one of their forms is as ‘groundlings’ and the other, as scaled, winged beings. They are rare in a world full of groundlings (earth dwellers) and waterlings (water dwellers). The main character is Moon, a foundling Raksura, and follows his initiation into the complex customs of the struggling Raksura court, Indigo Cloud. Picking up just after the end of THE CLOUD ROADS, Indigo Cloud moves into their long abandoned ancestral mountain-tree, and find that the tree is missing one vital component—the seed that magically guarantees the continued life of the tree. Moon and his friends start a quest to find the missing seed.
The quest, full of adventure and derring-do, is also a chance to explore the flora and fauna of Wells’ imaginative land. Full of monsters and magic, the book is both a throwback to the Planetary Romances of Norton and nods to the New Weird creations of China Mieville. While Wells has an ear for crisp dialogue and her characters are nicely delineated, the world-building is the real star here.
I look forward to the next and final installment of Raksura novels: THE SIREN DEPTHS.