Fire Logic by Laurie Marks

(Mild Spoilers)

It is widely accepted by people in connection with reality that books don’t always get the reception they deserve. Lack of promotional budget. Wrong place wrong time. Take Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, a double award winner that his publishers didn’t really know how to market. Take Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God and Sea Beggars, that just preceded the Grimdark wave they’d have made such a good part of.

Take Laurie Marks’ Fire Logic, a very personal stakes Epic-ish fantasy in which a host of lesbian and and gay characters struggle for ways to save their country and themselves. It’s the sort of pitch that seems to get the major publishers’ sniffing these days but back in 2002, when this was published, not so much. I wonder how people would react if this series was majorly pushed today. (If I ever win the lottery, I’m running a service putting major promo pushes behind a couple of older books a year to see what happens).

Which is not to say this is a unquestionable forgotten classic that I think everybody should be discovering. In fact, in a lot of ways, I’m not at all sure what I think about Fire Logic other than being sure it would get a better reception if first published today.

You see, I like Fire Logic. I like it a fair bit, although maybe not a lot. But I struggle to pick out standout qualities.

Fire Logic is the tale of Shaftal, a civilised land overrun by a group of displaced mercenaries named the Sainnites, and three people in particular. Zanja was a diplomat and warrior in a bordering tribe until the Sainnites came for her people too; she’s rescued from captivity by Karis, a half-giant Earth witch with a tangled past and a drug addiction, and then eventually placed in the paladin company of Emil, a one time scholar and now guerilla commander. All three have a lot of emotional mess to come to terms with, something they confront in their journey. As a story idea, it splits the difference between Tigana and Curse of Chalion, which could be part of why I like it. This is very much in my sweet spot.

The prose feels a tad slow, a tad grave and stiff. It took a little bit of chewing at times and the flashes of humour are few and subtle. I never got swept away by the sense of a character’s voice, or a moment of poetry, that I remember. It’s possible that the prose is part of why I struggle to place Fire Logic.

A slightly slow prose style is accompanied by a plot that does not rush to reveal itself. It has a disguised prologue for chapter one, takes a couple more chapters before the instigating incident, and even after that is no more than mid-paced. There were a few reveals that didn’t seem to fit the tone I thought I was reading either (there’s a mention of child prostitution, although nothing is shown on page). The worldbuilding too is revealed layer by layer, with some of the layers I was maybe expecting to get not quite coming. I was surprised when I realised this world had gunpowder weapons. The plot does come together for me and picks up once we hit the main narrative; the worldbuilding never quite did.

The magic shown – the way in which people blessed by one of the four elements have certain innate abilities – was intriguing but left very ill-defined. The soft edges didn’t impact the action-based narrative, but it did seem to result in a few cases of shortcutting the building of emotions between characters, which is possibly why I’m reluctant to call the characters standout.

The characters’ emotional journey is the best thing about Fire Logic, probably the most important thing, what I’d expect to be the make or break for most readers. Zanja and Karis have a sweet, tumultuous relationship, both willing to forget who they were/are in some way due to pain but refusing to let the other do so. They have some of the best scenes in the book. Is it stand out? As in, am I going to automatically reach for them in terms of my great romantic relationships or healing journeys I tell everyone about? I honestly don’t know at this point. Their relationship seemed to have a lot of scenes that felt repetitive and sapped away at the dramatic tension there. Emil is somewhat underfleshed compared to those two and in all honesty, probably doesn’t deserve the prominent billing the Goodreads blurb gives him. But he’s fun.

The book is fun. I said it splits the difference between Tigana and Curse of Chalion earlier, and I’m more or less stick with that description only gay and not as outstanding as those two (which of course falls flat for those who haven’t read the two, but they’re good books, I’m being nice). It’s a nuanced book of personal healing and cultural resistance, with intriguing characters and a pageturning story once it develops. But I’m not quite sure how fun. I’m not quite sure how close to those two touchstones of mine it is.

I told my friends that I was reading a book I liked without quite knowing why I liked it when reading Fire Logic. At the end of this review, when I come here to recommend it to you, I’m still not utterly sure I’ve figured it out. Maybe it doesn’t matter when you definitely like a book though.

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