I reviewed three of Tanya Huff’s books last week (here’s the first one); those three were among her most recent novels, visit and urban fantasy. She has, resuscitation of course, written serious fantasy, serious science fiction, humorous fantasy, urban fantasy, high fantasy, short stories, and a partridge in a pear tree; she’s also sold books. Most recently she had an early-90s series of novels turned into a TV series; I discussed that a bit in the introduction to last Monday’s book. She was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and although she didn’t live there very long, she still considers herself a Maritime Provinces person.
This novel is set in a country called Ischia; they believe in ten or so gods, nine above and one below. The capital is set right near a volcano; there’s a gem, the titular fire’s stone, that keeps the volcano (with a lot of magic) from erupting and ruining the entire city. Darvish is a prince of that city; Aaron is a thief who broke into the royal palace to steal a giant emerald; Chandra is the princess of an adjoining realm that was sent over to marry Darvish at some point in the near future. Unfortunately, then the Stone gets stolen, and while those three people aren’t very fond of each other — Darvish is a drunk, Chandra is very young and arrogant, and Aaron is traumatized and suicidal — they’re chosen (or choose themselves) to go find it.
A good deal of this book, although a lot is sublimated, is the formation of an odd threesome — and I mean that in the romantic sense. Darvish will sleep with anything that moves, and he is supposed to marry Chandra, but Chandra doesn’t particularly want anything but the political aspect of a marriage. Aaron comes from a culture wherein homosexuality is absolutely verboten, but due to a spell he’s expected to spend a long period of time within about ten feet of Darvish. Since they’re both wounded souls and very needy, it sounds like a recipe for fireworks, after one fashion or another. Aaron’s backstory is the stuff of an opera; he ran away, and he had been Clan Heir prior to that. But there was a forbidden love flogged to death in there, and he’s still hurting for it. Chandra and Darvish are both the normal generally-ignored children of aristocracy/royalty; Chandra, being an academic and intellectual (a wizard), didn’t care, but Darvish started acting out.
In any case, though, it’s not a romance novel; it’s an adventure story. There’s a timer on their entire adventure; if they don’t get the stone back by a certain time, the volcano will explode and take out the entire city and more. There are boats, foreign countries, disguises, magic — lots of magic, actually — and peacocks. Generally speaking, the adventure part of the story is primary, but there’s an awful lot of interpersonal and intrapersonal drama driving the story along. I first read this story quite a few years ago, and what I remember, primarily, is the personal conflicts.
It’s definitely an interesting novel. I liked the religious structure; each of the nine gods represents some aspect of reality (justice, etc.) and the priests choose one god to serve, in both the positive and negative aspects. I also liked a good deal of the minor characters; there’s an old woman in the first few pages of the book who is colorful, and several servants, sailors, and random people our three main characters run into that all add to the story like bits of ceramic or glass in a mosaic. Ms. Huff also does a very good job of balancing the heavy emotions of Aaron’s and Darvish’s healing with Darvish’s one-liners and Aaron’s occasional self-deprecating humor; Chandra also makes sarcastic remarks, both in her head and out loud. Overall, it’s still a bit heavy, emotionally; I wouldn’t precisely recommend it for humorous, light reading, but it’s worth it, if you need a catharsis. 4/5 stars.