Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

Three generations ago Captain Vidarian Rulorat's great-grandfather gave up an imperial commission to commit social catastrophe by marrying a fire priestess. For love, he unwittingly doomed his family to generations of a rare genetic disease that follows families who cross elemental boundaries. Now Vidarian, the last surviving member of the Rulorat family, struggles to uphold his family legacy, and finds himself chained to a task as a result of the bride price his great-grandfather paid: the Breakwater Agreement, a seventy-year-old alliance between his family and the High Temple of Kara'zul, domain of the fire priestesses.

The priestess Endera has called upon Vidarian to fulfill his family's obligation by transporting a young fire priestess named Ariadel to a water temple far to the south, through dangerous pirate-controlled territory. A journey perilous in the best of conditions is made more so by their pursuers: rogue telepathic magic-users called the Vkortha who will stop at nothing to recover Ariadel, who has witnessed their forbidden rites.

Together, Vidarian and Ariadel will navigate more than treacherous waters: Imperial intrigue, a world that has been slowly losing its magic for generations, secrets that the priestesshoods have kept for longer, the indifference of their elemental goddesses, gryphons—once thought mythical—now returning to the world, and their own labyrinthine family legacies. Vidarian finds himself at the intersection not only of the world's most volatile elements, but of colliding universes, and the ancient and alien powers that lurk between them.
The first thing that I would like to talk about with this review is what's right on the cover. The art. Fan'freakin'tastic is what this cover is. And after completion of the novel it is something that can be marveled at more so because I think that it really does capture the essence of the characters told of in the pages that follow it. Dehong He, whose other work can be found HERE, is truly phenomenal artist and I would never have known about him if it were not for this book. A good cover art can capture the imagination of the reader and take the reader to new heights when it is good. I have to be honest, I judge books by their covers. But here is the thing, I don't judge the story inside by the cover. There is a big difference in my opinion. I won't not read a story just because the cover threw me off, but I may buy a book based on the cover art over something that a didn't catch my eye. You know the old adage, It's whats on the inside that counts not the outside. Well, from personal experience I can tell you that I have bought books with these gorgeous covers and have had my heart broken because the story did not live up to the expectations the cover gave me. But in the case of Sword of Fire and Sea this was not the issue.

At the beginning of our story we get introduced to our hero, Captain Viderian Rulorat who is being forced to hold up his families end of a bargain that he wishes that he didn't have anything to do with. As the description above states, he is soon tasked with delivering a fire priestess (yeah, badass, right?!) to a water temple. And already I am giddy cause we get our own elemental priestesses who practice some good old fashioned earth, wind, fire and water magic awesomeness. Before the journey even gets started he knows that the way he is instructed to go is treacherous at best and he is quickly advised that the journey will be made even more difficult by the Vkortha. The mind manipulating scum of a people that will stop at nothing to kill the fire priestess because she became privy to a huge secret of theirs.

Along the way, we are treated with some writing that does well for drawing you in to the surroundings. Viderian and his crew make for easy acquainting to the goings on of ship life and routine. As with any good fantasy, trouble soon ensues and the battle sequences are wrought with a deep suspense that literally had me on the edge of my seat waiting for what was going to happen next. Arialdel quite literally adds her own fuel to the fire and her and Viderian fall into this almost too perfectly matched relationship. And how could he not, I ask?
"The scent of her skin, a peculiar aroma of mingled cinnamon and sandalwood, soared into his senses, revealing a dizzying depth to the tantalizing hints that had come to him before always from a distance."
With the hypnotic lilt of such passages one cannot help being swept away with Vidarian and Ariadel on the Empress Quest as they sail the high seas of adventure. However, the adventure does lead our travelers onto land which is a good thing, because a whole novel at sea may have been a turn for the worse. Being the first of... Well, to tell you the truth I don't really know how many this series plans to take on. Maybe someone knowing the answer to that question could leave a comment? So, being the first in the series we have a barrage of characters good and bad. The sequence is small, but I am already a huge fan of Orchids. As I say, her part in this is small but I hope to see more of her and her skills in the future. And of course, who doesn't love gryphons??? There is a Gryphon on the cover and I just assume that it is Thalnarra, but I could be wrong. But there are more, lots more and that added it's own intricate part in the start of this series. The character development of the gryphons was a little strange to me at first but it takes nothing away from the story. With a great means of communication that rallied their part in the story for me, helped quite a bit and in the end I think it is an element of this series that will make it stand out.

I wouldn't call the end of this novel a cliff hanger, but there are definitely questions left unanswered and I will be anxiously awaiting the next in the series just to see where Ms. Hoffman takes the story of Captain Vidarian Rulorat. In a world where it seems magic was fading from it completely, this hero just might be the key to it coming back full tilt and that is really exciting for me. As with many first novels, our hero is stretching his proverbial wings (no pun intended) with his new strengths and just the anticipation of what he will be doing when he finally learns what he is doing is enough to keep me reading. Thank-you Ms. Hoffaman for an intriguing start to what I hope will be another great series of high magic and even higher adventure. This book soars for me and I hope many other will give it the chance it deserves.

4 out of 5 penguins! (Why penguins you ask? Because I would have given this a 3.5 but who has the heart to cut a penguin in half?)

And I leave you with some of the most amazing music ever. We all miss you Syd!