Martha Wells is swiftly becoming one of my new favorite people. Martha Wells reminds me very much of Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my other favorite wrMartha Wells is swiftly becoming one of my new favorite people. Martha Wells reminds me very much of Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my other favorite writer-people). Wells does the same sort of incredible world-building as Bujold: logical, intricate, fascinating, original. But still easy to understand. And really cool. Wells also has that dry banter down pat that I love so well. To wit:
"The Infinite touches everyone," she said...
"Tell it to keep its hands to itself," Rian suggested...
Wheel of the Infinite is a stand alone fantasy novel. The main character Maskelle used to be the Voice for one of the Infinite, the gods of her people. Voice of the Adversary, god of revenge and justice. But then she misinterpreted one of the god's messages, or received a false vision. Even she's not sure, but the end result was because of that vision, she committed murder and treason. Maskelle was exiled not only from her home city but from her god. After years wandering alone, the High Priest of her order calls Maskelle back home without saying why he wants her.
While traveling back to the Imperial city with a nomadic theater troupe (gotta love a theater troupe, right?), Maskelle saves a (very hunky) swordsman who's fled his own homeland in disgrace. She doesn't know what to expect when she gets back to the city, but she's expecting the worse. Worse than the worst. That's how her luck has been running for the past several years, after all. What she finds, however, exceeds even her worst imaginings. The most important 100 year rite of her religion is going horribly wrong. And, if that's not bad enough, they're all looking to her to fix it.
So, what did I love about this book? The world-building is great. I am a sucker especially for very original religions and this one is fantastic. The organization of the religious order, Maskelle's place in it, how the temple interacts with the Emperor's court. It was all very well-thought out and believable. I also loved Maskelle's patron God, The Adversary. He is just as well developed a character as any of the humans--and with not nearly as much page time.
This leads me to my next point: the characters! So good. Maskelle is definitely not a cookie-cutter heroine. She's 45 years old, prickly, self-doubting, loyal, addicted to power. Her love interest, Rian, is at least 15 years younger and the age difference isn't even touched on as an issue between them. Rian (I did stumble over his name a bit, I admit, but he's very sexy so I got over it) is a devoted bodyguard/courtier/noble swordsman. Rian had to flee his homeland and he hasn't really trusted anyone since then. But, when he meets Maskelle, he, and the reader, realize that he's "finally found a woman worth serving." Over the course of the book, Maskelle and Rian bicker over strategy, over her safety, and yet Rian never questions her competence. Or she his. And gender is never really an issue. When Rian wins an argument it's because he's a warrior and she's not. And they each win their share of arguments. And even though Rian is an accomplished warrior, Maskelle could still tear him to pieces without breaking a sweat if she wanted. I love the power dynamics between these two, can you tell?
The secondary characters in this were also so good. The acting troupe Maskelle travels with play a strong supporting role and their leader, Rastim, is a great character, very nuanced in the end. He's comedic support, but he's theatrical and, this is great, self aware comedic support. Such as this moment near the end of the book (no spoilers, promise):
"It will hold," the monk said firmly.
"If it doesn't..." Rastim was still staring bleakly at the temple.
"Rastim..." Rian threw his arms in the air in exasperation. "If it doesn't hold we're all dead. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"Sorry, sorry." [Rastim] shook himself briskly and shouldered his pack. "Being dramatic, force of habit. Let's go."
I have a few nits but they are very minor and didn't really impact my enjoyment of the book. Although I liked the romance and the way it played out I think it could have been developed a little more, and it might have been nice to see some sort of tension between Maskelle and Rian at some point. Once they kiss they are pretty much an unshakeable team. They don't doubt each other or their connection and, though I enjoyed their romance, I think it could have been deepened a little. I also wanted a bit more of Rian's backstory, and how he felt about his former masters.
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely and I would recommend it to people who like strong heroines, solid fantasy worlds and well-written action. Also, as a bonus, hunky swordsmen. If you're looking for a way to spend your Christmas money you could do worse than to pick up one of Martha Wells excellent books like this or the books of Raksura. ...more