In this sequel to "The Wizard Hunters" the action transfers to mid-ocean, aboard a refugee ship with a motley crew of military intelligencers, wizards, refugees, rescued prisoners and Syprians. As we start the book, the ship is being stalked by the airships of the nameless enemy we first met in "The Wizard Hunters" and it doesn't take long for the suspense to ratchet up... As always with Martha Wells, the writing is laced through with dry humour & the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. All the main characters have continued to develop - I particularly enjoyed the way that Tremaine Valiarde is showing signs of inheriting her father's rather more psychopathic tendencies. In fact, everything is superbly done: the culture clashes between the two uneasily allied races, the poignant ghost-ship grandeur of the luxury ocean-going liner converted hastily to carry refugees, & the growing claustrophobia aboard as it becomes apparent that there is an enemy entity hiding somewhere on the massive ship. If you have a taste for light escapist fantasy, then this is one of those rare books that will hold you absolutely enthralled from start to finish. It's not really a stand-alone read though -read "The Wizard Hunters" first so that you get to know all the characters.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Very rewarding3 Aug. 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
Contrary to my last few postings, I do occasionally read books I like. Ships of Air is one of those - matter of fact, Martha Wells is an author I admire a lot. The first book in the series was on the "new books" shelf at the library, and I really enjoyed it. My biggest complaint with the second book is that it took too long to come out. I kind of lost track of the main characters and it took me a while to remember who was who and how they fit.
That isn't as easy as one would expect. Martha Wells writes complex characters that can't be described by a single word endowment. The primary viewpoint character isn't the "Smart" one, nor is she the "brave" one, nor.... she's just Tremaine. Tremaine is smart, determined, brave and a whole host of other virtues. And the really cool thing is that she doesn't really know it.
Martha Wells is better than any writer I can think of right now at showing you both what the character thinks of themselves, and what others think of the character. She doesn't tell you- she shows you. Tremaine, like most people I know, isn't really aware of how special she is. But through others eyes we get to see that she is admirable.
Wells is ambitious and in addition to the half dozen major characters she shows us a host of minor characters that have lives of their own when they're not illuminating the major characters. She also shows us the cultures of three very different and very believeable worlds. Ile Rien, Tremaine's society, is like Europe prior to the World War. Slightly more advanced in some things, and with sorcery added. They are however under attack from a nation known as the Gardier - problematic, since like pre-war Europe, there is no space left on teh globe for an industrialized superpower to emerge without being noticed. In book 1, we discover that the Gardier travel between worlds, and we track them back to Sypria - a pastoral, pre-monetary Matriarchy with some curious religious structures. And we learn more of the Gardier who are fascist conquerors.
Book 2 suffers from some of the sins of a bridge book. Foreshadowing is revealed, loose ends are tied up, but in fact, no new surprises can be written because there's only one book (I presume) left to hold them.
But Wells' manages all these tasks quite well. I do care about Tremaine - more than she cares about herself. I do care about the worlds, and I'm eager to learn more of the various societies. Rarely does an author manage to focus attention on this many things at once and still be successful.
I hope that she continues to write, not just because I enjoy her work, but becasue I hope she learns to tighten up some of the looser constructions. There is enough spread out that I do have to concentrate to keep it all in mind. On the other hand the reason I have to concentrate is that I have to read more deeply than I do with other authors. I have to keep track of what I learn about Tremaine from herself, from her friends and from her enemies. And none of them tell me what they think - they react, and I must study their reactions to learn what they think.
A very rewarding read.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Quarrelsome Quest26 April 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Martha Wells's beautifully written "Ships of the Air," the second in the author's "Fall of Ile-Rien" trilogy (and you really have to read the first novel, "The Wizard Hunters," before you tackle this one) surpasses the first in its utter looneyness. We meet once again the spectacularly neurotic Tremaine Valliarde (who has, thankfully, gotten over her suicidal impulses), as she and the companions she met in the first volume explore the world she now finds herself in as they attempt to learn more about the Gardier, who have been wreaking havoc on Tremaine's world. In order to do so, Tremaine engineers an alliance between one of the tribes of this world, the Syprians, and the Rien, after which they attempt to discover just where the Gardier are coming from.
At the end of the volume, after quite a trip, they do.
Once again Wells's elegantly flowing prose style smoothes out the rough spots caused by her tendency, as was the case in the first volume, to write herself into a corner, creating problems for herself that don't really matter. (I suspect that, like her heroine, Ms. Wells makes things up on the fly--perhaps working from only the loosest of outlines. And that's not a complaint.)
Whatever. The completely dysfunctional quest is bizarre fun. Tremaine has leadership foisted on her after she gets married mainly on a dare, and although she hasn't a clue, she's certainly plucky and lucky. The tale, which features sorcery and electricity in equal proportions, moves quickly from land to a converted luxury liner and thence to "flying whales," which is what some of the characters call this world's version of hot-air balloons. (They're filled with hydrogen, not helium. Oh. Oh.) And despite the fantasy elements, much of the novel is grounded in reality. Wells describes perfectly what is bound to occur when a group of ill-assorted people are forced to go sallying forth together. They quarrel; they fight for dominance; they all think they're right. It's quirky fun. For readers anyway.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Kipling, Forester, Dunnett, Wells29 Dec. 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
I was trying to hold out reading these books until the third one was published but I had to give in when I accidentally picked up a copy of Element of Fire and reread it. Set some two hundred years before this trilogy, Element of Fire is not a prerequisite but it did remind me what a great adventure writer Wells is and how little really good adventure fantasy does get written these days. So I grabbed volume one and two of this trilogy off the shelf and hid from the frigid weather in the luxurious staterooms of the Queen Ravenna,luxury liner turned world hopping battle ship.
The background of this book is not mere wallpaper. It's a richly realized world with characters who are both likeable and fallible. There's heroes and traitors and "primitives" who refuse to be neatly pigeonholed. There's politics and danger and a sly, dark humor that is really appealing.
So now what am I going to do until the third installment is published?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
the middle novels of trilogies are often my favorite20 Oct. 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I just wrote my review of this novel's prequel, The Wizard Hunters, based around the premise that these books are more complex than they seem. Just as this book goes more in depth into the complexity, so I'll continue, in this review. As I said, on the surface, these books are simply a great swashbuckling sort of adventure (quite YA-friendly, I might add; there's sex but it's fade-to-black, and the violence is realistic but not excessively gory), but it's the characters that make it worth following. And all of them are complex and rich and believable, even the unnamed ones who get a throwaway line in a background scene.
This book gives us a great deal more insight into Tremaine Valiarde, our intrepid heroine. It gives her a love interest, for one-- but a marriage of political expediency, and with a wonderful Wellsian twist: the husband is from a matriarchy and assumes that she will be the authority figure in the relationship. It's a fascinating logic experiment that yields phenomenal results of characterization. And this book contains the scene I love to use as an example of what Strong Female Characters ought to be, but never get to be: HUMAN. Tremaine is primarily a human character. She's set up to be a neurotic, bloody-minded person. In this book, she is presented with a desperate situation that catapults her into a leadership role she doesn't particularly want but knows she must take-- to secure it, she has to play a life-or-death game of chicken, and she does so with iron nerves, but believable irritability. (Over the course of about fifty pages there's a delightful little thread of consistency as she bites off each of her nails one by one, followed up later when her husband notices her doing the last one; in many of the scenes she otherwise seems utterly unmoved by the most horrifying things, but if you pay attention to her hands, you can see she's just shredded internally.) And later, she is presented with a choice: murder in cold blood to secure just a bare chance of saving not just her friends but probably her entire world, or spare an innocent man's life and ensure the death of everyone she loves? The most important part of this is that unlike in many works of fiction, Tremaine doesn't just murder someone, feel on-screen guilt about it, and then move on. No, she returns to think of her hapless victim in tiny little realistic moments of self-doubt and post-trauma for the rest of the series; you know fine well that in the fictonal future, she still remembers the man she shot in cold blood to get a truck. Like a real person would. She's not some action superman. She's ruthless because she has no choice. She's her father's daughter, even if she doesn't understand him. And that's possibly the crowning touch to the whole little arc of characterization: she is continuing the same arc her father was on in Death of the Necromancer, when he overheard Inspector Ronsarde and Doctor Halle discussing him. Even then it is apparent; they think him some sort of cold-blooded psychopath, but in his moment of doubt, he knows he is only doing what he has had to do to survive.
Not just any author could make a connection like that, but that is how three-dimensional these characters are.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
promising improvement over first book8 Aug. 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
The Ships of Air, the second book in this series, builds upon the strengths of the first while also improving several of the first book's flaws. As in The Wizard Hunters, the main character's depth and likeability is a major strength. Tremaine is a complex character, displaying a variety of emotions and pursuing a variety of actions, some of them not so clearly understood by those around her or even herself. Several of the side characters from the Wizard Hunters whose characterization suffered a bit from shallowness deepen into more three-dimensional creations here, enriching the overall flavor of the novel and allowing Wells the luxury of dipping into several enjoyable side-stories. The writing moves along crisply and often humorously, another positive carried over from book one.
Where the first book suffered somewhat from repetitive plot, villains painted in too-shallow pictures, and an over-reliance on Tremaine's sphere as a deus ex machina, Ships of Air suffers from none of these. The villains, the Gardier, are explained more fully from inside and out. The storyline finds excitement though expanding existing tensions and adding new points of contention/crisis rather than simply repeating a pattern of capture/escape/capture/escape. And the sphere plays a relatively minor role to the advantage of both character and plot.
Some of the foreshadowing from book one is resolved here and, as is expected of a bridge novel in a series, new questions arise to tantalize the reader. If anything, these new questions are more intriguing than the old ones. This, combined with the improvements in plot and character, make this not only a better written book than Wizards, but also a much stronger lure into continuing with the series. A good recommendation.