Monday Muse: Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

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Every now and then, you read a fantasy novel that’s so wise, so smart, so affecting and downright addictive that you find yourself whiling away the hours until you get to read it again–but when you near the end, you tend to slow down, not wanting it to end.

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks is such a novel. Thankfully, it is the first of a series.

Zanja is a kind of ninja warrior in Shaftal, a world that has been conquered by the warlike Sainnites. She is the last surviving member of her tribe and a “fire blood,” one gifted with vision and insight, as well as a skilled diplomat. Over the course of the book, she falls in love with Karis, the giantess earth witch who may or may not hold the key to lifting their kingdom and culture from the ashes–but only if Karis can get herself off the all-consuming drug called smoke, which was one of the many horrors forced upon her as a child as a way to control her vast power.

I know of no fantasy novel more astute not just in its world building but its world making, and by that I mean its command of the many ways that human psychology and culture are woven together in the complex tapestry that makes “the hinge of history.”

And while the conceit of the different elemental powers will at first seem familiar to fans of the genre, the different modes of seeing, being, feeling, and decision making endemic to each elemental power in this world have the ring of deep truths, as if the author looked into the entire range of human personality theories and perceived even truer patterns.

Though there’s plenty of combat here–this is, after all, the story of how a race of people was conquered, and then rose up against their conquerers–it’s never glorified. (I appreciated in particular the author’s focus on the sheer gore associated with war, which I have rarely if ever seen addressed in fiction.)

And in the end, this is a story of peacemaking–in part because our protagonist is one given to the gift of insight, which means she can see deeper, farther, even unto the heart of the enemy. In this regard and in many others, the book strikes me as in conversation with the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, who has worked so hard to show us the tricky and difficult ways that atrocities can be redressed and peace won without engendering a cycle of further bloodshed.

And like Le Guin, Marks strikes through to the human heart; in the end, I found myself really quite moved by the love story at the book’s heart.

That elusive combination of intellectual and emotional satisfaction is what I strive for in my fiction, and Marks absolutely nails it. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

The anniversary edition of Fire Logic is available from its publisher, Small Beer Press (it was originally published by Tor): http://smallbeerpress.com/books/2014/02/18/fire-logic/

It’s also available from Powell’s and the (necessary) evil empire, Amazon.

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