Monday, 4 October 2010

Review|Irons in the Fire - Juliet E. McKenna

Yes, I have been doing quite a few reviews of McKenna's books recently! This will probably be my last for a while, until I get Blood in the Water - the next book. Irons in the Fire is the start of a new fantasy trilogy, exploring another area of the world of Einarinn: the warring duchies of Lescar. Each Duke desires the throne of this broken country, but the constantly shifting alliances, lead-adulterated coinage, and a peasantry broken by constant levies for the duchies' mercenaries combine to make it an impossible goal for each. It sounds typical, but the worldbuilding is actually fairly extraordinary, with the ever-changing politics of Lescar shown very well, as well as each of their rulers' machinations - and the determination of others to profit from the chaos.

And this is where we meet our protagonists. A band of Lescari exiles, strategies for Lescari freedom are constantly pored over and rejected: and the use of elemental magic in these wars is forbidden by Archmage Planir. But what about Artifice, the magic of the mind? The Archmage has never claimed any authority over that... The setup is slow, as the characters, from very different reaches of life, meet and discard ideas to put and end to this. However, in the book's second half, the action soon speeds up, as Sorgrad and 'Gren - two characters from The Tales of Einarinn - get involved. I can't really spoil it further, but let's just say the the plan is simple, but the result exceedingly fun! Although you don't need to have read any of McKenna's previous series, you'll probably get more out of the references, and especially of the Mountainborn's history, if you have. If so, you'll spot the pair early on: they're fairly prominent, and fun characters.

Our other main characters are Tathrin, a scholar currently working for a fur trader, Aremil, a crippled scholar himself, and one of the conspirators from the beginning, and finally, the mistress of Duke Garnot: as well as several other recurring viewpoints, like Duchess Litasse and Karn. Although Aremil fits several stereotypes, though I won't say which, the way in which he's dealt with is constantly surprising and not cliched in the least, Tathrin, meanwhile, adapts surprisingly quickly to his new situation as a co-conspirator, and an outlook on Sorgrad and 'Gen's more... colourfully pragmatic actions!

It's a fun book with a slow start and some surprisingly moving sequences, which I'd recommend, not as like reading, but definitely for those with a bit of time to spare and looking to get into a finished series.