Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks (Small Beer Press, 2014) is a relationship- and culture-driven fantasy novel featuring all the things you wish you found in classic fantasy novels. Women, women, and more women! Like, maybe even a percentage as high as in the real world! Lesbian women, gay men, and sweet and tender same-sex romance! (Also hetero romance, but it isn’t in the forefront.) Sex-positive females! Pregnant women having adventures! Mothers having adventures! Magic! Sword fights! Magic sword fights! Ok, so you’ve already read a couple of magic sword fights. But were they between two women? Two non-heterosexual women with three-dimensional personalities and magical powers? My money’s on “not in recent memory.”
If you are looking for well-written, not-at-all-bloated (I was actually startled by Marks’ choice to skip over long, dull events in order to stick to the action), female-authored fantasy featuring interesting and varied female characters THEN LOOK NO FURTHER.
It says a lot about the state of the fantasy genre in general that I need to mention any of this at all.
It says a lot about the state of the fantasy genre that I literally cannot remember ever reading a fantasy book with this many women in it.
I ended up with a digital copy of Fire Logic when Erika wrote a feature about Small Beer Press at the beginning of the year. We both planned to review a few Small Beer books in conjunction with the feature, but, cough, I have been slow to bat. Fire Logic was a title I chose because it looked like something I wouldn’t normally seek out. In the name of horizon expansion. Which also explains why it took me so long to get to it.
But the opener drew me in with talk of scholars worshiping (metaphorically) books in libraries, then BAM political upheaval, the world is thrown into chaos, and all sorts of interesting points about cross-cultural communication. Zanja, a warrior and sort-of diplomat, is very focused on how cultural knowledge aids communication between groups of people, and as she is our narrator for the majority of the book, so are we. (Thus the descriptor “culture-driven” above.) A war is on because some assholes have sailed in and occupied the country and also because of internal upheaval and a dash of betrayal, but spoiler law prohibits me from telling you about that.
Zanja is also something called a fire blood, which means she can sort of magically figure things out about people just by staring at them for a while, or something. The magic was never completely explained, but this worked well as an immersive factor: the magic is everyday for the characters and so the magic is presented as everyday to the reader. I would like to personally thank Ms. Marks for not infodumping. If Patrick Rothfuss had written this book it would have been 600 pages long (it was 330).
Karis, another big player in the story (literally and figuratively; she is half giant), is an addict earth witch, and she can do some badass healing and metalworking (she makes the magic swords) and stop guns from shooting (because what is gun powder but earth?) and who the fuck knows what else. She is a force to be reckoned with, but her addiction has kept her docile for most of her life. She and Zanja are inexplicably and irreversibly bound.
Not everyone is born with elemental powers, there are also air and water witches, and that is about all I can tell you about that. Marks’ website, however, has a quiz for figuring out your elemental power, as well as explanations of each element’s properties. I didn’t feel the need to know more, but if you do, it is all there waiting to gather your clicks in Marks’ google analytics account.
Strangely, the lack of book bloat really threw me off, and since finishing Fire Logic, which I liked more and more the further into the political plot I got, I have been asking myself if this was a pro or a con. When I read A Dance With Dragons I was pissed that more wasn’t cut. When I read A Wise Man’s Fear I cursed the editors for not convincing Rothfuss to cut some of the time with the sex fairy. When I read Fire Logic I was all “wait, you mean you are just going to skip over an entire winter of two women who hate each other living together in a small space and probably just sat in silence for three months?!” Welcome to the fifth elemental power: Nikki logic. A power that helps you absolutely not at all. But listen: When I sign up for epic fantasy and that epic fantasy provides me with characters I am eager to get to know and a world I am not in a hurry to leave, I wouldn’t mind a little plodding, winding detail. I guess it turns out that a thing I hate about epic fantasy is also a thing that I love about it.
The more time that passes since having finished this book, the more I find myself thinking about it and looking forward to the sequels, two of which have already been published.
Four out of five earth witch swords.
Where I got it: Sent for review by the publisher, digital
Where you can get it: Amazon