How did I get it: I was sent a review copy courtesy of Pyr (Prometheus Books). Thank you!
Why did I get it: I was curious about the book after seeing the cover. Mostly because of the griffin and the idea of a fantasy series with a strong high seas element to it. I also thought the summary sounded really intriguing. (This title will also count towards my Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge for 2011.)
How I would rate it: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
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.
Review: Let me start off by saying that I really wanted to love this book and appreciate it for what it was. I also don’t need every book I read to break the mold or shrug off the conventions of its genre, but in the case of Sword of Fire and Sea, I felt like I was doing the reading equivalent of playing a mildly entertaining video game with neat visuals and a very so-so storyline. Sometimes I was dazzled by the ideas at work, but most of the time I was too confused or let down by the way the ideas were ultimately utilized.
In terms of the setting and the writing in of themselves, Sword of Fire and Sea was quite good. I think there were a lot of great details, a very neat magic system, and a very interesting new world for readers to visit. There was certainly plenty of potential and quite a number of unique concepts as well, but nothing got developed in a way that made me care about what was at stake or any of events unfolding in said fictional world. Even now that I’m done reading, I don’t know that I feel like this book did what it set off to accomplish and I certainly feel like its very awesome summary lead me to expect way more than I received.
In terms of the characters and plot, Sword of Fire and Sea was okay but erred too often on the side of bland caution. Being sort of middle-of-the-road is not always a horrible thing for a book to be, but it can be really disheartening. I went into this particular title thinking I’d be thrilled by the high seas adventure idea or the griffins, but I felt like neither element got enough time or focus compared to the aspects of the book that didn’t gel for me. Although I liked Vidarian and found him to be fairly endearing, I couldn’t stand Ariadel. I also couldn’t stand Vidarian’s milquetoast- and vanilla-flavored interest in her that eventually resulted in them being a couple in spite of any real motivation, chemistry, or tension. I still have no idea what to make of their relationship, but I do know that it sprang up out of nowhere and really added nothing to the story.
In conclusion, if you want to read a mild and inoffensive Fantasy adventure that is perfect for the beach, this isn’t a bad pick. Honestly, nothing was so badly done or handled that Sword of Fire and Sea ought to be avoided if you like your Fantasies to be cozy and comfortable. I’m also fairly certain that the book will go over very well with teens or even tweens who are just beginning to seek out Fantasy titles. Personally I think that Fantasy works out much better when given a bite or edge to it, and I would much rather concentrate on series or stand-alone titles that deliver on those sorts of things.