Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks. ★★★★
Hooray for queer feminist fantasy! I need more of it in my life.
Shaftal is a conquered nation. The ruling earth witch died without leaving an heir, and most other leadership has been killed by the invading Sainnites. The Shaftali are fighting back in a guerrilla war that’s lasted fifteen years, but as they fight Shaftal is razed to the ground around them.
Zanja is an ambassador and warrior, with nothing left but revenge. However, her fate soon becomes tied to that of Shaftal and two of its citizens. Emil is scholarly Shaftali general, fighting with reluctance. Karis is a blacksmith and earthwitch, who while possessing great powers is bound by her addiction to a deadly drug.
The world of Fire Logic is without sexism or homophobia. All three of the main characters I discussed above are queer, and the main romance is between two women. And there’s never drama or angst about being with someone of the same gender. It’s presented as natural and normal and not even worthy of comment. Women are present in an equal number and hold all the same positions as men, from soldiers to judges to councilors, on both the Shaftal and Sainnite sides. There’s never any hints of gender discrimination, anywhere.
I knew going in that Fire Logic had an elemental magic system, but it wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. Each element seems to be more like a set of personality traits with some associated powers. Zanja and Emil both have fire-logic, which seems to means they’re impulsive and fall in love easily (or was this just a stereotype of fire-logic people?) and have some minor prescience. Karis has powers that are more like what I associate with earth element magic, but I don’t know if this is because she’s earth elemental or because she’s specifically an earth-witch. Actually, I don’t know if there’s any difference between the two. Could there be a fire-witch? Fire Logic is very vague about how the elemental magic works, but it didn’t bother me much.
Fire Logic is a book set among the dirt filled camps of the rebel army and the ordinary farms of the countryside. There may very well be some cross over with military fantasy, although it seems more focused on the characters than the battles and tactics. Guns and explosives are commonly used, making the technology a bit different than what I normally see in second world fantasy.
I liked all of the central protagonists, although I’m not sure I could say why. Maybe it’s because all of them felt messy and flawed and human. Karis especially stood out to me for those reasons, and I’m glad that the next book looks to be focusing on her. And make no mistake, I will be reading the next book in the series. Maybe not right away, since the library doesn’t have a copy, but I will be getting to it eventually, I swear.
There are a couple of things that I do want to note. The first is that Fire Logic does magically cure disabilities. I was hoping we’d see how a character can be plot important and paralyzed, but nope. And while it’s not relevant to the book itself, I can’t figure out what’s going on with the cover. None of the characters in the book are blond warrior women. Zanja, who is a warrior woman and the protagonist, has brown skin. It looks a lot like this cover was whitewashed. I know authors don’t have any control over these things, but it’s a real pity.
Anyway, as I’ve already established, I liked Fire Logic a lot and will be reading the sequel. This is definitely recommended to anyone looking for fantasy set in a gender egalitarian world or focusing on queer characters.