Home > Books > Read/Heard: Martha Wells and Augustland

Read/Heard: Martha Wells and Augustland

A couple of times I’ve run into discussions on message boards where the question “who’s the most underrated author” has come up. Or, who’s an author who’s really good but isn’t well-known enough, or whatever. My standing answer is Martha Wells.

Martha Wells writes intelligent, understated fantasy. At one time I thought to compare her to Barbara Hambly, another of my favourites, but when I get right down to it I can’t put my finger on exactly what they have in common. I guess their novels are similarly, oh, scaled? That’s not all of it, though.

The largest part of Wells’s work is her Ile-Rien series. Ile-Rien is a city that forms the setting for five of her novels. First, there’s The Element of Fire, a swashbuckler which is probably my favourite thing she’s done. (Kade Carrion, in that novel, is as close as I can come to an answer to another common message-board question: which fictional characters have you ever had a crush on?) Next, there’s Death of the Necromancer, which is probably the one you’ve read if you’ve read one of her books. Takes place hundreds of years after The Element of Fire and is kinda like a French Sherlock Holmes story, inside out. (I suspect there’s some Arsene Lupin in it too, or something like that, except I’m not familiar enough with Lupin, or, who, Fantomas maybe, to be able to say for sure.) It really is very good. And then there’s the “Fall of Ile-Rien” trilogy, which is some years after Death of the Necromancer. Those three books I only read once, and they didn’t do much for me, but maybe it’s just that I need to read them again; I find that happens a lot.

She also has a couple of standalone novels. There’s City of Bones, which I thought was kind of neat but am going to have to read it again to really decide on, and Wheel of the Infinite, which I liked just fine both times I read it.

What brought this to mind is that I just finished The Cloud Roads, her newest. (Unfortunately it’s the first book of a trilogy. Not that I object to reading two more Martha Wells books; it’s just that I want the story finished and in front of me, that’s all.) Like all Martha Wells books, it doesn’t suck you in right away. She doesn’t write page-turners; you have to give her stuff a chance. Takes a few chapters to get into the flow of it, but after that it goes smoothly. The Cloud Roads is like that, and is therefore recommended.

But listen: if you really want to try her stuff, and you should, go to her website and read all of The Element of Fire for free. It’s a tremendous deal. Here’s a book that you should have to pay to read, it’s so good, and you don’t have to pay at all! It’s crazy if you think about it.

Unrelatedly, I have recently been listening to music at this site, and have found it an unusual experience. In the sense that I’d be listening to the music, and finding it pleasant enough, and knowing that if I listened to it a few more times, I’d get to like it even better as it became more familiar, the way we do with songs that are solid enough that we aren’t already sick of them by the second time they come around on the radio. But then here’s the thing: I turned the computer off and went to do something else and suddenly found that I was really enjoying having listened to all the songs. And I’ve never run into that kind of aftertaste effect before. I wonder what kind of deal it is. Also recommended.

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