Recent Reading: City of Bones and Wheel of the Infinite.

Whew, what a weekend! I didn’t work on any of my own projects because, see, it’s finally warmed up, and the soil’s not too wet, so I started this project, building a low terrace to slow down runoff down this slope. Of course I plan to plant shrubs up on a low (very low) berm along this area and then run a path in front of the shrubs, once I’ve got things set up so the path (it’ll just be mulch) won’t get washed away.

Anyway, I want to see if any of the many bayberry suckers are rooted enough to transplant and use, but if not, I have some deciduous hollies on their way, so I’ll use those.

And then I sprinkled a lot of seeds out: Nolana, vinca, phacelia, poppies — various things. After which it hasn’t rained. It was supposed to rain. Very annoying if I have to go water this huge area tomorrow morning before work.

ANYWAY, after all that I deserved a break, right? So I read Martha Wells’ WHEEL OF THE INFINITE. Just finished it. You know what? It may be my favorite of hers. At least, it’s right up there. But hang on a second, because let me mention CITY OF BONES first. As it happens, these two books make a great contrast.

I read CITY OF BONES last week and it was fine, I liked it a lot, but out of the ten Wells’ books I’ve read so far, it is my least favorite. Don’t let that put you off if it’s already on your TBR pile, though, because I eventually figured out what was bothering me about it and it wasn’t a quality issue. It was this:

CITY OF BONES gave me claustrophobia.

I don’t mean literally. I’m not actually claustrophobic. And there were no tiny little dark places involved. No, it’s the whole society in CITY OF BONES; it’s so closed-in and limited, and not in a good way. You’ve got these cities surrounded by a desert wasteland — worse than a normal desert, all these poisonous predators, and deadly ghosts, and in fact there are also cannibals that specifically lie in wait for travelers. So normal people can’t just stroll into the desert, right? And of course most people can’t afford to travel with a well-armed group because they are crushingly poor because of how the society is constituted. And what that means is, nearly the whole book is set in this one city with a despotic elite crushing the great mass of citizens (and it’s worse if you’re a noncitizen). So there you are if you’re a normal person in this city: struggling to make a living, with virtually no safeguards from thugs and thieves and whatever, and with way too many people above you who can kill you at a whim, and you can’t leave.

So for me this was a grim setting. Really, it is a dystopia. If it had been supposed to arise from the contemporary world, or if it was more SF than F, then if it were published today it would certainly be marketed as a dystopia. I was distracted the whole time by thinking, Thank God that’s not me! Thank God that’s not me!

Don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression: the ending is fine. The bad guys mostly get what they deserve, and so do the good guys, and it’s fine. But still.

Interesting tidbit about CITY OF BONES, though: we have a male main character and a female main character, and there is no romance. Occasional sexual tension, but no romance. When’s the last time you saw that in a fantasy novel? I wonder if Martha Wells intended to put in a romance and then just couldn’t? Because truly it would not have suited the two protagonists to fall in love with each other. She was completely right not to take that obvious path. Of course if you really strongly prefer a romance in your fantasy, this would count against the book; but I thought it was great to have these two people not suit each other and basically realize it and pretty much not go there.

So, all this is an interesting contrast to WHEEL OF THE INFINITE.

In WHEEL, we do have a (understated) romance. But you know who is involved? One of the very, very few mature woman protagonists in fantasy. The only comparable protagonist I can think of offhand is in Bujold’s PALADIN OF SOULS.

Maskelle, from WHEEL, is about as far from a swooning young girl as you can imagine. She is powerful and sure of her power — for various reasons she has areas of insecurity, but she is basically able to move through her whole world without being physically afraid of, well, anything. That is just about unique for a female character in fantasy.

That Wells manages to give Maskelle serious obstacles to overcome despite this set-up is pretty amazing, but she does, of course, or else there wouldn’t be much of a story. But I loved Maskelle; and I also loved Rian, the secondary protagonist; and I loved the way they fit together so perfectly despite being from such different societies — in fact, Rian was really set up, because of his background, to need someone like Maskelle. And vice versa, actually, since Maskelle was carrying a little too much baggage from her backstory to easily build a relationship with someone from her own society.

And what a difference between Maskelle’s society and the one in CITY OF BONES!

The Celestial Empire is open, peaceful, civilized, beautiful, and above all spacious. No claustrophobia here!Plus, it is clearly based physically on a country such as Thailand: tropical, with breadfruit growing in people’s gardens and a very serious rainy season. I love the physical sense of being there Wells gives us with her fabulous descriptive ability — and I love that being there would be actually fine. The Celestial Empire sounds like a great place to visit, and not at all a bad place to live. So long as they don’t accidentally mess up the cosmic balance of the entire — well, never mind.

I still do have Wells’ new YA, EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD, to read. And her two Stargate tie-in novels. Other than that, well, I look forward to seeing what she writes next — and re-reading my favorites in the not-to-distant future. So far, out of all of Martha Wells’ books, I still love the Raksura trilogy the best. But I think WHEEL OF THE INFINITE may be second, possibly before even The Fall of the Ile-Rien trilogy.

How about you? If you’ve read Martha Wells’ backlist, which one is your favorite?

And let me add just one current picture of the baby. Yes, she climbed in there by herself.

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12 thoughts on “Recent Reading: City of Bones and Wheel of the Infinite.”

  1. Very good point about City of Bones! And I didn’t miss the romance either. There simply were other priorities.

    My favourite book of her so far is Wheel of the Infinite – especially as I’m now roughly the age of her protagonist. Have you read/reviewed The Element of Fire on here somewhere? I admit I like it better than the Ile-Rien trilogy…. but I think my disappointment to find out that Madeline had died may have overshadowed those books, I so love that relationship in The Death of the Necromancer…

  2. Yes, WHEEL is definitely my favorite of Wells’ books, since the Raksura books didn’t grab me in the same way. Need to re-read it (soon!) but your description and comparison with BONES strikes me as spot on.

  3. Hi, Estara — yes, it bothered me a bit to know what was going to happen to Madeline later on in her timeline, but since I read the Ile-Rien trilogy first, I think I kept a more distant attitude toward Madeline when reading D of the N. Plus, in D of the N, the relationship that I loved the most was the one between Nicolas and Ronsarde.

    And, yep, I too am roughly Maskelle’s age, and I honestly hadn’t realized how much I would enjoy reading about a female protagonist my age rather than twentysomething.

  4. The Raksura series are my favorite Wells books, though Wheel of the Infinite is right up there. I adore everything of hers I’ve ever read. Khat, the protagonist of City of Bones shared many personality traits with Moon, the protagonist of The Cloud Roads, so naturally I instantly fell in serious like with him. I felt like the ending left me hanging just a little, even though all the loose ends were pretty well wrapped up. (I felt like the Elen-Khat relationship had real potential, even though they were great just as working partners, too.) Her description of the fairly-unlikely-to-ever-materialize sequel definitely left me wanting more.

    Am about to acquire Emilie and the Hollow World, looking forward to a great read.

  5. Wow! What a coincidence–I’ve been working on all of Martha Wells’s novels since February, so it’s funny to see someone else doing a backlist read the same as I am!

    I’ve actually been going in published order, so the Books of the Raksura are the only ones I have left aside from the brand-new “Emilie and the Hollow World.”

    I just read her two Stargate Atlantis books, and for the most part, they don’t “feel” like Martha Wells; they read like SGA episodes (which I’m sure is the goal of the publisher). I have seen the first couple seasons of SGA, and I will definitely saw that Wells gets the dialogue absolutely right–I can *hear* David Hewlett’s voice when I read McKay’s lines! If you’ve never seen SGA, you may want to at least read a general synopsis of the show so you aren’t totally lost about the characters.

    For all that I’ve read of her books, I still have a very fond spot for *The Element of Fire* if only because I loved Kade Carrion so much. *sigh*

    I also found it kinda cool that all of the Ile-Rien books (along with Wheel of the Infinite) have actors/playwrights/plays in them, if only as significant background (Kade Carrion in the Aderassi play, Madeline as an actress, and Tremaine as Tremaine, and the acting company/puppeteers in WotI).

  6. Great, another Raksura fan! You know a set of four Raksura novellas are coming out this year, right?

    If Elen hadn’t wound up in the place she did, I could have seen a relationship working — maybe. But I thought it was clear that Khat was never actually that into her as a potential lover, and I thought that gave the whole book an interesting and unusual dynamic.

    I totally see what you mean about Khat being similar to Moon — you’re absolutely right, and I don’t think I realized that til you pointed it out. I loved him as a character and would definitely be interested in a sequel. What did Wells say was likely to happen in an (unlikely) sequel, do you remember? I’d really like to know. The loose end that I thought was loosest was the kris enclave coming to look for Khat and then just going away again; I definitely would expect to see more about that in a sequel!

  7. Maureen — can you believe, I’m actually rereading parts of WHEEL already? It makes the beginning more fun to know more about Maskelle!

  8. And I actually went very nearly in reverse order of publication! Kind of the odd way to do it, but since I’d read the Raksura ones first, I just kept working my way back in time.

    Kade made ELEMENT OF FIRE work for me — I could have taken or left Thomas, but I totally agree with you about Kade! Yes, I enjoyed the running thread of playwrights and acting through Wells’ books, though that plot element is certainly most important in WHEEL and D of the N.

    I’m glad to have your take on the Stargate ones, and it’s probably a good idea for me to read a synopsis of the show first — though I expect they both work as novels. I’ll be interested to find out if they seem stylistically like Wells’ books to me.

    Enjoy the Raksura trilogy! I think you can see from comments here that not everybody loves them as much as I do . . . but on the other hand, *I* sure love them!

  9. I adore WHEEL OF THE INFINITE!!! I need to re-read it soon. I remember being on the edge of my seat all through CITY OF BONES.

    My copy of EMILIE just arrived, but I plan to save it for a bit.

  10. Well, Victoria, since I just had twenty shrubs arrive and rushed to get them all planted before it rains, frankly I think I may not be equal to starting a new book — even a YA like Emilie. Too tired! So actually I think I will just re-read Wheel of the Infinite myself.

    Not many books I read twice in quick succession, but this is going to be one of them. (Bujold is sometimes a read-it-twice author for me, too.)

  11. I am a long-time Martha Wells fan, having picked up Element of Fire when it was new and followed along ever since. (I loved Kade in Element, but I liked Thomas, too, in particular the complexity of his relationship with Queen Ravenna.)

    My favorites change. I loved Death of the Necromancer from the get-go. Both City of Bones and Wheel of the Infinite I liked on first read, but loved on reread; I think I must have picked up more of the nuances and the detail on later passes when I knew the outline of what was happening. I recently acquired my first tablet computer and picked up e-copies of City and Wheel for it; they are fallbacks for traveling with since if all else fails I know I can enjoy rereading them.

    It occurs to me that I never reread the Fall trilogy. Quite probably I should.

    Haven’t read the Stargate Atlantis books because I never saw the show. But I expect to read and enjoy her upcoming Star Wars book.

    And Raksura … I do love Raksura.

    And Emilie is on the top of the TBR pile.

    If I had to pick a current favorite, it would probably be Wheel.

    (By the way, Rachel, I recently read and greatly enjoyed The Floating Islands. I picked it up after one of your reviews of the Raksura books, since I thought an author who shared my appreciation for Martha’s work might be someone I would like. I was right. And now I have a new backlist to work my way through.)

  12. OtterB — clearly you have excellent taste in books!

    Having re-read most of WHEEL, honestly, I’m torn between that and the Raksura books as my favorite. But that third Raksura book — that intense bit around the time Moon meets his mother — that’s hard to beat!

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