The Ships of Air by Martha Wells. ★★★★
The Ships of Air is the second book in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, which starts with The Wizard Hunters. I suggest reading them in order, but I actually enjoyed The Ships of Air more than the first installment.
Ile-Rien has been overrun by the Gardier, the mysterious enemies who’ve been attacking them from another world. Everyone who can has evacuated, and the front of the war has moved on to a neighboring country. Our protagonists are aboard the Queen Ravenna, a luxury liner which has been converted for the war effort and given the ability to travel between worlds with the aid of a sorcerer. The goal is to avoid the Gardier patrols and get the refugees to safety. But the ship itself is not entirely safe, for a malevolent and shadowy force stalks it.
I’m hard pressed to say why I liked The Ships of Air better than The Wizard Hunters. One explanation may be that I’m simply in a better mental place now. However, I think I was a lot more attached to the central characters here. Tremaine in particular grew on me. She has that fierceness that I find so appealing, and she can be rather ruthless as well. Plus she can be hilarious at times, and I love it when other characters are taken aback by her. I think Gerald actually did a facepalm at one point – it was delightful. While I wouldn’t call The Ships of Air a comedic book, there were moments when I laughed. There’s a marriage subplot that for once might be one of the highlights of the book and which lends itself to some unexpected humor.
I felt like the setting was a lot stronger in this book as well. I really liked the luxurious setting of the Queen Ravenna and how it contrasted with the current circumstances. Apparently it is based on an actual ship, the Queen Mary, which I really need to look up. The subplot on the alliance between the Syprians and the Riens was something else I really enjoyed, particularly the culture clash between the two groups. There’s some new (and characteristically inventive) settings off the boat too. We get a bit more of a glimpse into the Gardier, and it’s fascinating. I can’t wait to find out more in book three.
By the last hundred pages, I wasn’t able to put The Ships of Air down. Martha Wells was already one of my favorite fantasy authors, and this book has cemented her in that position.