Book Review: Between Worlds — The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories by Martha Wells

2 Jul

Six by Six: A New Kind of Spec-Fic Anthology was a kickstarter conceived by a sextet of science fiction authors: Bradley Beaulieu, Brenda Cooper, Stephen Gaskell, Tina Connolly, Will McIntosh, and Martha Wells. The idea was to make an anthology of anthologies. Six authors, each with a short anthology of selected stories, six in number. Thirty-Six stories in total. Now that the kickstarter has completed and the rewards been given, the individual authors are making their anthologies available to the general public.

Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories is Martha Wells’ volume within Six by Six.

BetweenWorlds

While Martha Wells is now much better known for her Raksura novels and stories, the backbone of much of her earlier work was set in the world of Ile-Rien. Ile-Rien is a fantasy kingdom not quite unlike France, and in several novels (and two of these stories), she explored the development and growth of the realm as it slowly moved from Renaissance to Early Modern in terms of its approach to magic and technology. Element of Fire is a Renaissance-era novel, with courtly intrigue, strong Fey magic, and swashbuckling goodness. The Death of the Necromancer, her Nebula-nominated novel, is Victorian in nature and feel, with magic a much more standardized science, with much less of the wildness seen in Element of Fire. By the proto-Great War era of The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, magic is even more of a science and discipline, and the effect and power of the Fey nearly gone completely. The plot of the three novels in that set, starting with The Wizard Hunters, also ties us into the characters in the four remaining stories of the new volume, in the eponymous personages of Ilias and Giliead.

“The Potter’s Daughter”, the first of the stories, features Kade Carrion. Readers of Element of Fire will remember her — the daughter of the young and callow King Roland, by a fling with the Fae Queen of Air and Darkness. Making her own way, she prefers to be out of the way of courtly intrigues except when it suits her or she is goaded to action. The Potter’s Daughter illustrates what happens when someone decides to mess with a small community that Kade has settled in for some peace and quiet. This is the story of the set I had read before, and it was a welcome return to seeing Kade, again.

“Night at the Opera” is an original story to this collection and is set in the era of Death of the Necromancer, and features two of the main characters, Reynard and Nicholas. A noble family is being blackmailed, and Reynard and a very reticent Nicholas are roped in to help, all in the background of odd doings at the Opera House. This was the most atmospheric of the stories, and was a great deal of fun.

“Holy Places” introduces us to Ilias and Giliead and fills in the blanks as to the origin of Ilias and why he is an adoptive brother of Giliead’s clan.  Wells captures well the fierceness of the young Ilias, as he slowly realizes his family has abandoned him to die, and the consequences for himself, and for them, of doing so. The story does a lot of heavy lifting in helping explain the sociology and anthropology of Cineth. Wells’ craft in making interesting societies, which are distinctly different than ours, is on full display.

“Rite of Passage” starts to ramp up the dynamic between the two adoptive brothers quite well. While the Giliead and Ilias we see in The Wizard Hunters are rather experienced in curses and wizards, it was not always so. Rite of Passage gives us the story of their first real experience in dealing with wizardry on their own.

“Houses of the Dead” and “Reflections” continue to develop the skills, relationship and bond between Ilias and Giliead in the time before the refugees of Ile-Rien show up in Cineth in The Wizard Hunters. In the former, Giliead and Ilias must investigate a deserted city on a new trade route that, foolishly, was built outside the domain of any local god, and thus especially vulnerable to wizardly badness.  In the latter story, Giliead and Ilias are on the hunt for a wizard on the run before he can get away, and discover to their surprise that strange magic doesn’t have to have an evil wizard at the bottom of it.
I think Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories works as an interesting introduction to the Ile-Rien and Cineth worlds of Martha Wells, especially for those readers who have torn through the Raksura novels and stories and are looking for more to explore. Readers enthused after reading these six stories from Six by Six are well prepared to explore any and all of the novels. Readers like myself, well familiar with all of Wells’ oeuvre, will help find a lot of blanks filled in that were only hinted at within the pages of the novels. For myself, I did always wonder just why Ilias wound up in Giliead’s clan, and in addition, seeing them as very young wizard hunters helped fill in some points in their development.

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