I read the first book in Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic series, Fire Logic, a couple of months ago, and have been putting off writing it up because I know I’m going to have a difficult time doing justice to it. But the queue behind it is getting long, so it’s time to try.
The book is premised on two pieces of worldbuilding, one magical and one political. On the magical end, some people have elemental talents. These do not give them the ability to literally manipulate fire or water, but are linked to ways of understanding the world. For instance, fire bloods deal in possibilities and passions, and may have flashes of prescience or unexpected insights; earth witches deal in realities and physical sensations, and may heal or work with crops. On the political end, there’s the country of Shaftal, which is ruled by an earth witch titled the G’deon (an unfortunately clunky name that I half suspect of being left over from a very early conception of this world). However, the last G’deon refused to choose a successor, and when he died, the country was conquered by Sainnites.
Fire Logic opens with the news of the G’deon’s death and the destruction of the ruling house by the invaders, as experienced by two of the main characters. One is Zanja, a fire blood and a representative of the Ashawala’i, a people allied to but not part of Shaftal [*]. The rest of the first section follows her over the next fifteen years, as she experiences the effects of the invasion, culminating in the destruction of her people and her captivity.
[*] They are also dark-skinned, and the people of Shaftal tend to be fair; I like that Zanja is a protagonist from a racial/ethnic minority, though wish she wasn’t the last of her group. While I’m talking about diversity in characters, I’ll also note that same-sex relationships are entirely unremarkable in the societies of the novel.
I found this section somewhat difficult to fall into, because it jumps over large periods of time and is often grim. The jacket copy did me a favor, at least, by highlighting the characters in the first chapter who I would meet again, thereby giving me a framework of expectations, but still: somewhat difficult.
Zanja is eventually rescued by Karis, a powerful earth witch who is also addicted to smoke, a drug brought by the invaders (when under the influence, its users have no volition; and after a certain point, they must keep taking it or die from withdrawal). After Zanja is healed, she joins the resistance against the invaders. From here, the book coheres much more successfully, as Zanja makes some discoveries with the potential to change the course of Shaftal.
None of which sounds very different, I’m afraid, and the most interesting things about the plot are all spoilers. (Possibly they are not very surprising spoilers, but I read this on a plane on the way back from vacation, which was not conducive to insightful reading on my part.) What distinguishes this book, to me, is the careful way it complicates its characters and worldbuilding. It is fundamentally rooted in its characters being three-dimensional, meaning both that there are no mustache-twirling villians and that its principal theme is people finding ways to become their fullest selves. Which probably doesn’t sound very interesting either, but which made for a rich and satisfying reading experience.
Two sequels, Earth Logic and Water Logic, have been published, and the author is reportedly working on the concluding volume, Air Logic. I hear good things about the series as a whole and look forward to continuing it.