I am, have always been, a big fan of fantasy. By far my favorite genre, it's also the only genre I am willing to take on the risk of reading a new author with a concept that sounds a little shaky without giving it too much thought. It's how I found some of my current favorites (Brandon Sanderson, Rachel Aaron, Juliet Marillier) and how I'll likely find future favorites. Erin Hoffman included.
Don't let the cover mislead you, this isn't a sweet toothed fantasy with gilded pretty ladies and handsome men. Nor is this Asian inspired, despite the Asian fantasy cover art (which I adore, but feels a little out of place amongst the fantasy covers of Dan Dos Santos and Michael Whelan). Instead Hoffman draws on her gaming years to create a fully visualized world efficiently and without having the reader chug through chapters of backstory.
Despite its short length, under 300 pages, SWORD OF FIRE AND SEA uses its space wisely. It doesn't waste words or build in details that will have more significance later in the story. Hoffman focuses quite squarely on the here and now for Vidarian and Ariadel, giving us just enough to understand their situation(s) and motivations.
This is definitely more like the fantasy series of when I was younger and will likely appeal to anyone who enjoys RPGs (Role Playing Games) or MMO's games (Massive Multipleplayer Online). There is a definite 'quest' feel to each of their adventures as Hoffman tosses surprises at them and character relationships are built quickly and predicated on past association or some bonding element.
Surprisingly much of what is outlined in the blurb is not helpful until closer to the end of the book. Though much of it has ramifications (such as the rare genetic disease) the characters don't confront the issues until later on.
Though this is the start of a larger series, its self-contained enough that readers shouldn't feel stunted or unfulfilled. Truthfully speaking a reader could read this and be satisfied with the ending. For the moment I don't know what the second book is about, or who it features or what adventures they'll have, but the questions brought forth in this book were answered and fleshed out.which is enough for me any day of the week.
Three generations ago Captain Vidarian Rulorat's great-grandfather gave up an imperial commission to commit social catastrophe by marrying a fire priestess. For love, he unwittingly doomed his family to generations of a rare genetic disease that follows families who cross elemental boundaries. Now Vidarian, the last surviving member of the Rulorat family, struggles to uphold his family legacy, and finds himself chained to a task as a result of the bride price his great-grandfather paid: the Breakwater Agreement, a seventy-year-old alliance between his family and the High Temple of Kara'zul, domain of the fire priestesses.
The priestess Endera has called upon Vidarian to fulfill his family's obligation by transporting a young fire priestess named Ariadel to a water temple far to the south, through dangerous pirate-controlled territory. A journey perilous in the best of conditions is made more so by their pursuers: rogue telepathic magic-users called the Vkortha who will stop at nothing to recover Ariadel, who has witnessed their forbidden rites.
Together, Vidarian and Ariadel will navigate more than treacherous waters: Imperial intrigue, a world that has been slowly losing its magic for generations, secrets that the priestesshoods have kept for longer, the indifference of their elemental goddesses, gryphons—once thought mythical—now returning to the world, and their own labyrinthine family legacies. Vidarian finds himself at the intersection not only of the world's most volatile elements, but of colliding universes, and the ancient and alien powers that lurk between them.