The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff. ★★★1/2
The Fire’s Stone is about a wizard, a swordsman, and a thief who go on a quest to recover the magical stone that binds a volcano, before the city beneath it is totally destroyed. This is largely a standard fantasy quest story. A trio of heroes has to defeat an evil wizard and save the day. Really, the only stand out element here is the romance between the two male leads.
Aaron was the heir to his clan, but he fled after his father ordered his cousin Ruth killed. Aaron’s now a thief in the city of Ischia, which lies beneath a volcano. Darvish is the spoiled third son of the king of Ischia. He’s a playboy and an alcoholic who spends most of the time giving into his own vices. Chandra, his betrothed, is a princess and a wizard, and she does not want to marry. Unable to convince her father to call off the wedding, she travels to Ischia to try and convince Darvish. However, by the time she arrives the magical stone which controls the volcano has been stolen and is in the hands of a foreign wizard. Together, the three must set off to return it.
Despite the plot and world building being fairly pedestrian, I think The Fire’s Stone did have deeper characterization than some comparable books. I started off hating Darvish and disliking the power dynamics between him and Aaron. However, he did eventually get better (this coincided with him becoming sober). His arc might be noteworthy as one of the few times I’ve seen a fantasy book portray a lead character who struggles with alcoholism. A side note, both Darvish and Aaron are bisexual. In Darvish’s case, this could have easily fallen into the “promiscuous bisexual” trope, but I think it’s counteracted by Aaron being not at all promiscuous. On a similar topic, I was never completely sure if Chandra was supposed to be asexual or just celibate. I’m still not sure what to make of this.
The world building isn’t remarkable. The only memorable element is the city beneath the volcano, the gender equality of background roles and how same sex relationships are normal in Ischia. This isn’t the case everywhere outside Ischia. Aaron for instance comes from a homophobic society and has aghast over that (along with a friged woman in his past…)
This brings me to another point. Chandra is almost the only speaking, named female character in the book. The only reason it passes the Bechdel test is due to Chandra having a few conversations with her nurse near the beginning. All of the three main characters have mothers who are both unimportant and dead! The only mother who receives more than one mention is Chandra’s, and that’s only because her death throws Chandra’s father into depression. The “missing mother” syndrome is not isolated to this one book, but this sure is a good example of it.
Plot wise, this book was nothing great. Events took a long time to unfold. The climax lacked impact, and the pacing was slow. On the other hand, the writing wasn’t bad per say. The prose was never clunky or unwieldy. It just failed to interest me much for what ever reason.
In the end, I find The Fire’s Stone largely mediocre. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a standard quest story or bisexual male leads.