Cara Recommends: Martha Wells
Whenever anyone asks “who is your favorite author?” it’s pretty much impossible to answer. My favorite depends on a lot of things, like what book I just finished and whether or not I’m tired of bros in epic fantasy at the moment or not. So I decided to just pick an author that I consistently adore and make that person my go-to answer.
That author is Martha Wells. I have been in love with her work since the mid-nineties when I first discovered The Element of Fire at my local library.
The Element of Fire (the original cover is pictured on the left–she has since gotten the rights back and republished it with a different cover) was the first adult fantasy book I read that took place in a non-medieval-inspired era. Something about the very first scene in the book, when magic collides with flintlock pistols and rapiers, has stuck with me my entire life. This book and the other titles in the Ile-Rien series are at least partially responsible for my MFA thesis being set in a secondary world that is approximately at the same technological stage as the Fay of Skye books (late Victorian).
The later Ile-Rien books take place in exactly that turn-of-the century-esque time period, with Death of the Necromancer having a very 1890s feel (including a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson team, although they are *not* the main characters). The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy is set in more of a 1910’s era, with the grown daughter of the main characters from Death. I may or may not be planning to do the same thing at the end of the Fay of Skye series…
One of the great things about Martha Wells is her versatility as a writer. She writes both fantasy and science fiction, including a recent “Hard SF” turn with the Murderbot Diaries, a novella series published by Tor.com. The cover for All Systems Red is off to the left there, and it’s a great story. It follows a cyborg security officer that has hacked its “governor module” and is now aware–and spends all of its free time watching TV shows, particularly soap operas. I stayed up way too late one night to finish this in one sitting.
Wells also has tie-in books to SF properties such as Stargate and Star Wars. Her Princess Leia book, Razor’s Edge, is my absolute definitive Leia in print, even though it’s now classed as a “Legends” title.
Her Books of the Raksura fall somewhere between SF and fantasy. They are amazing and depict a culture very different from ours, which skews the books more alien/SF, but they also include elements that are borderline magical. Still, hard-to-classify genre mashups are my bread-and-butter, so I don’t mind in the slightest.
Hard-to-classify aspects aside, the Raksura books are great adventure stories, and they do a fantastic job of transporting the reader to a far-off world that is nothing like our own.
Another great thing about Martha Wells is that she can do stand-alone novels just as well as books in a series. Her Wheel of the Infinite is my go-to title when I’m trying to bring people over to the fantasy dark side. It’s a one-shot with gods and goddesses, a middle-aged heroine, romance, danger, river pirates, a possessed puppet, actors, and an ancient civilization based roughly on the cultures of southeast Asia. It’s an amazing book that packs quite a lot into a single title. The best part is the main character, Maskelle. I love her attitude and her view of the world. She has made mistakes and become jaded and ostracized from her community, but they are going to need her–and she has to learn and grow to find her way back to them–if their world is going to survive.
This is the artwork for the original cover, inspired by mandalas, an important aspect of the plot:
If you’re looking for a place to start with Martha Wells and you like fantasy, Wheel of the Infinite is where I would recommend you go.
If SF is more your thing, try Murderbot or the first book in the Raksura series, The Cloud Roads.
Also, if you are headed to World Fantasy in Texas this year, she’s going to be the guest of honor! I unfortunately could not afford to travel that far this year, so I will not be attending, but if you see her, say hi from me!
Do you have a favorite author? Or a “consistently excellent” author that you always love? Let me know in the comments!