Vlora takes centre stage
Captain Vlora is a powder mage in the Adran army. Once the favored, adopted daughter of the field marshal, she is now a pariah amongst those she called her family. Her superior officers would like nothing more than to send her to a far off posting and forget about her, but no one is exempt when there is a war – and powder mages are desperately needed.
When a traitorous guard captain goes on the run with information that could harm the war effort, Vlora is sent on his trail. She has three days to find him; she will have to make new friends and test the limits of her skills. Fail, and good soldiers will die. Succeed and maybe, just maybe, she can begin to work her way back into the field marshal’s good graces.
Vlora is a character that has spent most of the Powder Mage series on the periphery: following a moment of indiscretion, she has been ostracised by Field Marshal Tamas’s inner circle. Ever since, she has been suffering under Tamas’s withering contempt, and as Taniel’s popularity grows, so too does her isolation among the troops (powder mage and others). In Return to Honor, which takes place after the second novel, The Crimson Campaign, Vlora is given an opportunity to impress Tamas and perhaps reacquire some of his respect. He tasks her to hunt down a survivor from a battle in the aforementioned novel, to recover the intelligence they believe this traitor has stolen, before he has a chance to sell it to their enemies.
It’s another very good story, too: with Vlora at the centre, we see an alternative perspective on life in the army. The action is limited, but the story is more investigative than war-focused. This is one of the great things about McClellan’s short stories: they do a wonderful job of filling out the edges of the story, away from the battlefront. Return to Honor is a great tale to hold you over until the publication of the trilogy’s finale, The Autumn Republic (published on February 10th). Highly recommended.
An early case for Kate Prospero
Rookie cop Kate Prospero only has one more training assignment to pass before she’s officially sworn in to Babylon Police Department. But the veteran cop in charge of the river patrol boat is a salty old guy isn’t happy about playing tour guide to a rookie and seems even less interested in real police work. But while on patrol, they stumble on to what appears to be a floating dirty magic lab. This highly combustible situation might finally be the key to these two unlikely partners finding common ground.
This is the first thing by Wells that I’ve read. And it was pretty good: set very early in Kate Prospero’s law enforcement career, she’s still finding her feet in the role, butting heads with the jock recruits who struggle with the idea of a woman on the force, and therefore don’t take her presence seriously. Not only that, she’s an Adept (magically gifted), which only piles on the prejudices and difficulties she faces on a day-to-day basis. Assigned to accompany a cantankerous, aging police officer on river duty, Prospero finds herself on a case, investigating potion sellers. One thing leads to another, and she finds herself right in the thick of it…
I enjoyed this story — Wells’s prose is very clear and well-composed. The characters are interesting, well-written, and varied. They are familiar types, but don’t feel cliched. The story’s pace is good, unhurried, but not plodding. Overall, I couldn’t say the story excited me overmuch, but it did pique my interest to read the novels (which, thankfully, I have). It reminded me of Stacia Kane’s, M.L. Brennan’s, Kevin Hearne’s, and Jim Butcher’s novels in mood and style (while still remaining disctinct, as do these other authors’ works). If you’ve never read anything by Wells, then I think Fire Water is a great introduction. If you’re already a fan of the author and/or the Prospero’s War series, then I think you’ll enjoy this, too. Recommended.