Tremaine, the daughter of Nicholas Valiarde from The Death of the Necromancer, is a shell-shocked young woman contemplating how best to end her life without inconveniencing anyone. Her city, Vienne, is under aerial attack from an unknown assailant. No one’s ever seen the faces of their enemies, the Gardier, whose airships appear as if from nowhere to bombard the once-beautiful city with weaponry and sorcery that far outstrip their defenses. It’s like watching nineteenth-century Paris undergo the Blitz. A Manhattan Project of sorcerers hope to create a weapon powerful enough to turn the tide of the war, but it’s not looking good so far. The best of their sorcerers vaporized himself, as well as Tremaine’s father, in a failed experiment, and now the younger and less experienced are left to finish his work without even quite understanding what it was about. When they’re able, with Tremaine’s reluctant help, to activate the spell, it’s not a weapon at all. It’s a gateway.
On the other side of the gateway is not only a Gardier base, but another world, including a more primitive society where the use of magic is anathema. Giliead and his foster brother Ilias have already defeated one evil megalomaniacal sorcerer here, but although they beheaded him pretty thoroughly, all signs are pointing to his return. He may even have something to do with the army of zeppelin-building wizards that are using Giliead’s land for a base.
Spies, airships, and magical spheres with clockwork gears make for an entertaining adventure, but Wells’s winning characterization really makes the story. Tremaine is an unusual and uncommonly dark heroine. She may be a playwright, but she was raised by a crime lord, and in addition to lockpicking and a few other esoteric skills, she’s inherited his black humor and ruthless streak. It isn’t necessary to have read Death of the Necromancer to enjoy this trilogy, but if you have, you’ll be happy to see some of the characters again.
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