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Publisher's Summary

The kingdom of Ile-Rien lies in peril, menaced by sorcerous threats and devious court intrigues. As the weak King Roland, flattered and misled by treacherous companions, rules the country, only his ruthless mother, the Dowager Queen Ravenna, guards the safety of the realm. But now rumors arise that Urbain Grandier, the dark master of scientific sorcery, has arrived to plot against the throne. And Kade, bastard sister of King Roland, appears unexpectedly at court. The illegitimate daughter of the old king and the Queen of Air and Darkness herself, Kade's true desires are cloaked in mystery. Is she in league with the wizard Grandier, or is she laying claim to the throne? It falls to Thomas Boniface, Captain of the Queen's Guard and Ravenna's former lover, to sort out who is friend and who is foe in a deadly game to keep the Dowager Queen and the kingdom she loves from harm. But is one man's steel enough to counter all the magic of fayre?

©1993 Martha Wells (P)2013 Tantor

What the critics say

"Skillfully blending the fantastical and the mundane, Wells delights with deft and sympathetic characterization while demonstrating a fine touch for adventure." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Element of Fire

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Well Worth Persisting

I found the first couple of chapters dense with names and story detail. I find that kind of thing easier to process when reading a paper book, where a person can slow down and think, "Wait, who is that, again?" Actually the whole book is dense with detail and characters, but once you get oriented it is part of the fun. If you start this and it feels like too much detail is coming at you too fast, give it a little time. I ended up enjoying this very much.

Martha Wells has a great visual imagination and the first chapter has a glorious long scene that is full of action and invention. You know the better class of action movie, ones that have an actual plot that makes some kind of sense, and some character development, timing, narrative skill? You still can't process every little thing in the action sequences. You don't even try. It's not required. Lots of this book is like that. Yes, probably there is too much stuff being described and crammed in, but what is also present is subtlety and humour and great characters. I have listened to it several times and enjoyed it more each time.

There is a following book set quite a while later in the same world featuring a distant descendant of one of the characters. And then some more books after that. I am going to start the forth book in this chain soon. I found it quite enjoyable re-visiting the world and finding out more.

If my phone could play at .85 or .90 speed I would totally go with that for listening to this. Derek Perkins does a good job but I find he plows through at a workmanlike speed, when slowing down a little would enhance the experience.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Tango
  • 2013-12-08

A Different Take on High Fantasy

Somehow I have overlooked Martha Wells in my years of reading fantasy, but as Audible started adding some of her books, I checked this author out and realized she's not only a fellow Texan, but a fellow Aggie (Wells has an anthropology degree from Texas A&M) so I knew I wanted to give her work a listen. Although The Element of Fire was her debut novel, it has been recently revised by the author. I don't know what revisions she made, but this version is wonderful. This is high fantasy set in the country of Ile-Rien which is a little like 18th century France (so not your typical medieval high fantasy setting), with the plot driven as much by political intrigue as it by standard battles, and multi-faceted characters that a listener can really relate to. The beginning of the book is a bit challenging because Wells sets you down right in the middle of the action and then slowly unveils all the workings of Ile-Rien and its people as you move through the narrative. This makes for a fast-paced plot, but it takes a little while (about 2 hours into the story for me) to really connect with the characters. However, once I really got to know Kade, I was totally hooked. Suspenseful plot, engaging characters, a touch of romance (nothing sappy or hokey), some fun wry humor and snappy dialog - what's not to like?

Derek Perkins is a superb narrator and good fit for this book. He has a cultured English accent with a warm, nicely modulated voice and he does good character voices - especially for the Fae. This is a male narrator who doesn't make the women characters sound wimpy or goofy.

I will definitely be listening to more from Martha Wells.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Skipper
  • 2014-08-30

Action packed, but lacking something

Superbly narrated by Derek Perkins. He's a pro. As for the story, it's action-packed, coherent, and mildly complex. Good dialogue. Gruesome. Some sections are vividly gripping, some parts went on too long, and some scenes are just plain sad. I think King Roland -- so lacking in self-esteem -- made the greatest impression on me. His portrayal felt realistic.

However, the weak king is a secondary character. I didn't get into the main characters. I wish Wells would devote a greater percentage of the text to characterization and relationship development. She is strong on plot and action -- which is important -- but I need to care about the characters, and that means I need to know them, individually and as a team.

So, after half a dozen false starts, I finally got into the characters just enough to stay the course. This is primarily a kingdom based fantasy, with a romantic relationship on the side. I didn't get deeply drawn into the story of Kade and Thomas, because his past affair with Queen Ravenna overshadowed it.

The fantastical elements include shape shifting, wizards, wards, dark fey from the Unseelie Court, light fey from the Seelie Court (Tatiana and Oberon).

Lots of unnatural disgusting creatures. Lots of bloody battles. Treason, court intrigues, and various betrayals. A few kisses. Cool scenes of the castle, home of the Queen of Darkness and Air (aka Kade).

I liked this book, but not as much as her award-winning The Death of the Necromancer.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Michael V.
  • 2019-02-16

Another winner

First encounter with Martha Wells was the terrific Murderbot series. I much prefer hard science fiction to swords and sorcery, but she does a decent job in this genre. Above all, the writing is competent -- unlike much in this category. Avoiding cliches most of the time; avoiding comic book scenarios; avoiding the "young adult" mush. Good fights and battles. A large cast of interesting characters, which the author manages extremely well. Good plotting, good rules of magic -- in fact, she actually builds several different universes of magic, to go with several species of human and enchanted creatures, all following their own laws of nature. A skillful success, like watching a good chess player. I'm going to get the next one in the series.

3 people found this helpful

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  • T. L. Walker
  • 2015-06-25

Started a little confusing, but found its footing

The particular moment left me feeling disoriented for a while. Things didn’t start becoming clearer until around page 50 or so. For me, that’s when the book really started to answer my question, “To what end?” While I saw a certain reveal coming, I was pleasantly surprised she didn’t let that drag out to the end. She introduced it about midway through the story, which gave the plot room to explore other things. Once things started to happen, this book built momentum, escalating fairly quickly by the time readers start nearing the middle of the book.

However, with the momentum came a few hiccups. There were way too many instances of buildup for certain plot points and then, the denouement for these things didn’t deliver that satisfying sense of closure one expects, which is a little frustrating. Some other things that were twined into the plot had a tendency to come off as “Oh my, what a coincidence!” moments, followed abruptly with, “Well, if that was the case, why didn’t they do/say/tell [insert scenario here] instead of nothing?” Some things seem to started to buildup to something interesting and then suddenly fizzle out.

I liked most of the main characters. Ravenna, Thomas, Grandier, and Kade really got to shine throughout the book. Grandier’s gray morality and “be the monster they made you” attitude was interesting. I loved Ravenna, especially the fact that, unlike other book queens, Ravenna surrounded herself with gentlewomen and queen’s servants that she taught to be as scrupulous and quick-thinking as herself. Her servants were not fodder. She saw no use in having servants around her that couldn’t prove themselves useful for more than just their serving skills. Other characters felt a little weaker in their roles, such as the King and Queen, but they had a few memorable moments.

This book was part fantasy, part mystery. I’m curious about the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and wonder if I’ll see more of them in future books. Derek Perkins was an engaging narrator and an excellent voice for this series. His vocal characterization of both Ravenna and Kade were my favorites. I’ll continue to listen to the audiobooks for his narration. 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. I wasn’t as taken with this book as I was The Cloud Roads. The Cloud Roads feels like the type of book that I would use to introduce people to Wells’ work, but I had fun with this book all the same.

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  • Cascadian
  • 2013-10-17

Excellent action narration

Kudos to Perkins and the producers, for taking the time that action description needs. Very clear, easy to visualize, with no jarring mispronunciations.

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  • Judy F
  • 2021-11-13

One of her best

Martha Wells is an honored and gifted writer. This was one of her earliest books (maybe the earliest?), but you would never know it. With a sweeping plot (in a sort of faux Louis XVI kingdom), a dashing hero, a magical and mysterious heroine, weak kings, strong queen's, and an oddly sympathetic villain (and one despicable one), and only the saving of the Kingdom at stake, Wells kept all of this moving toward a satisfying conclusion. Oh, did I mention some demented fae are involved, too? Wells wrote this with rich details, vivid characters, that made this world seem real. I've read it many times, and this is a superb audio performance which I know I will enjoy again.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 2019-09-16

Not her usual style.

I love the Raksura and Murderbot series. This is a much more romantic type of saga. Still well written but not my cup of tea.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Areader
  • 2013-09-17

A long time coming to audio.

I read this book when it first came out about 20 years ago, It has been my go to long trip book since then. A detailed and fascinating world built around the golden age of France, filled with political intrigues of the human and fairy worlds and engaging characters. It never fails to hold my interest.

Highly Recomended

8 people found this helpful

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  • Kristi
  • 2022-02-23

Missing something

I love this author's Murderbot series, and would very much like to support her with good reviews, but this is not anywhere near as good. I spent the first couple hours wondering what I was doing here-- and wondering if maybe I had missed a prequel. Characters and names kept popping up all over the place with no real indication of who they were and how they were going to fit into the story. I finally got something of a handle on key characters, and some sense of what might be the real story-- and then got lost in the locations popping up everywhere. The author seemed to have a clear picture of what was where, and seemed to think that I should too, but I absolutely did not. I gave up and suspended my attention to such things, and just let the action carry me-- but the action went on and on and on without clear progress on the plot points. And then it ended. It did wrap things up, but the rhythm was all off, by the time there was a climax I was so mired in the endless action that I almost missed it. So-- when is the next Murderbot coming out?

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-11-16

Hard to follow

lots of action. lots of dialogue. I found it hard to follow. dropped into action without knowing who was who.