Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Martha Wells’ The Wizard Hunters

Florian gestured in exasperation. “It’s like you’re two people. One of them is a flighty artist, and I like her. The other one is bloody-minded and ruthless and finds scary things funny, and I’m not sure I like her very much; but whenever we’re about to die, she’s the one who gets all three of us through it alive.” She pressed her lips together, then asked seriously, “Which one are you? I’d really like to know.” [p379]

We first meet Tremaine Valiarde in Wells’ The Wizard Hunters at nine o’clock at night, in a library, while she’s trying to find a way to kill herself “that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court.” Tremaine is the daughter of Nicholas Valiarde, who starred in The Death of the Necromancer. This is the same Ile-Rien of The Element of Fire, but centuries later, and now it is menaced by a powerful, seemingly-unstoppable enemy. The Gardier came, it appears, from nowhere, with no intention but conquest: the war has been going on for the last three years and the Rienish are on the verge of being overrun. Tremaine is summoned out of her library by the sorcerer Gerard, because she possesses a magical sphere—made for her by her Uncle Aristide as a child’s plaything—that may be the key to Ile-Rien’s last chance to hold off the enemy. Dropped—in some cases literally—headfirst into danger, her stubborn, ruthless, and above all loyal streak drives the other characters forward, time and time again.

“When he was about to hit you. You just… watched him. It was creepy.”

“Well, yes,” Tremaine had to admit. “I should have flinched. It made him more suspicious when I didn’t.” [p123]

It’s been so long since I’ve reread The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy that I’ve forgotten how it ends. The Wizard Hunters is actually the first of Wells’ books I ever read, about eight years ago. I was a little too unformed in my tastes then to appreciate how well Wells brings disparate elements together and integrates them into the narrative. Not to mention her stellar prose and good pacing. Tone-perfect descriptions that don’t get in their own way.

Tremaine, Gerard, the young sorcerer-in-training Florian, and an intelligence captain end up discovering where the Gardier have been coming from—a whole new world which they’ve been using as a staging post. This world already has its native inhabitants, and two of them, Ilias and Giliead, form the other half of the narrative—although soon enough, the two halves collide.

For Ilias and Gil and their people, wizards are evil. The only wizards they’ve ever known are emphatically Not Nice people. When they encounter Tremaine and company, there’s a clash of cultures, and some very interesting characterisation.

Also, tension, chases through twisty caves, shipwrecks, captivity and escape, evil wizards, and airships blowing up. Not necessarily in that particular order.

I’ll tell you three things I love about The Wizard Hunters. I love that Wells’ Ile-Rien has changed since The Element of Fire: it’s not technologically static, and now there are automatic firearms and motor vehicles and airships, and the atmosphere of wartime Vienne feels analogous to WWII Europe, with blackout curtains and telephones and rationing and periodicals having ceased production. I love Tremaine, and how she’s unsure of herself and bloody-minded all at once. I love the deft characterisation of other characters, like Florian and Ilias and Gil. I love how all the cool shit comes together, cleverly, with meaning.

Wait, that’s four things. Oh, well. I could keep going, but that’ll do for now.

This is most emphatically the first book of a trilogy. While there’s arc, and climax, and denouement, in many respects we’re building up to book two. It’s internally satisfying, but not complete in itself. And now I’m going to have to reread The Ships of Air and The Gate of Gods, because I can’t remember what happens next and I need to find out.

It’s a great book. Trust me on this one.

Liz Bourke really wishes she had more time to read. Find her on Twitter and her blog.


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