Water Logic

by Laurie J. Marks

Cover image

Series: Elemental Logic #3
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Copyright: 2007
ISBN: 1-931520-23-2
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 332

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Water Logic is the third book in the Elemental Logic series, starting with Fire Logic. As with Earth Logic, it's best to read all three books in close temporal proximity, since Water Logic offers little recap of what happened in the previous books and relies on a large cast of characters who are not reintroduced.

It's also hard to review without spoilers for the previous books. Earth Logic ended with a monumental shift in Shaftal politics, and half of Water Logic is deeply concerned with the implications of that shift and where Shaftal should go from here. Karis and Zanja are, of course, deeply involved, but much of the political story is told from the perspective of the character introduced in Earth Logic, and from the perspective of another earth blood, Meriseth.

Water bloods haven't been seen much so far in the series. Water magic is about repeated patterns and the malleability of time, and the plot of Water Logic eventually entangles Zanja in events far in the past of Shaftal. This proceeds in parallel with more of Marks's excellent analysis of the meaning of war and peace, diplomacy, cooperation, multiculturalism, adaptation, and empathy. The two sides of the book do to some extent reinforce each other, but the connections are tricky and less obvious.

Parts of this book are excellent. Wars are complicated and powerful, and don't end easily. The mutual incomprehension and mutual (if intermittant) struggle for understanding between the natives of Shaftal and the Sainnites is beautifully presented. I particularly loved Mariseth's approach throughout the book. Earth bloods are perhaps Marks's best invention, and seeing another (besides Karis) at work, with the same stubborn patience but with different tactics and different levels of power, was a delight. I feel like reading, and thinking about, Seth's decisions makes me a better person.

As with the previous books, though, parts of Water Logic are a bit boring, or at least don't seem to coherently move in a conclusive direction. Zanja has long journeys across the landscape as well as several adventures after she's grabbed by water logic that seem only distantly connected to the rest of the story. Marks does pull this mostly together in the end, and I could detect other thematic linkages while mulling the book over after finishing it, but the book feels a bit disjointed while reading it. And there are some elements, such as the cowdogs, that are neat bits of world-building but that seem tossed in just because they're neat and don't feel strongly connected to the plot.

The other complaint I have, which would probably have been lessened by reading the books closer together, is that the cast is a bit too large. All of Karis's extended family are, of course, still around, which I found more confusing than helpful. Named and important characters keep popping in and then disappearing, with no introduction and no help for the reader who doesn't remember the exact details of their roles from previous books. It's a bit frustrating, and it makes the book feel a bit cluttered, although it does a great job of showing the dynamics of a large and comfortable family. (Marks shows the dynamics of family webs with multiple adults better than any other fantasy author I know.)

Karis is a bit more sidelined in this book, casting her in the role of force of nature, and I think that works well. It took me a bit to warm to Zanja again, but by the end of the book I was greatly enjoying her sections. But the star, for me, is Seth. Even though some of her segments should have been the boring parts of the book, since they were mostly concerned with quotidian issues, they were the parts I wanted to read about. I was very touched by the ending, even if I think a bit too much authorial hand-waving was required.

There is material left for a sequel at the end of Water Logic, including a villain who has yet to fully appear, but it's currently not clear whether Air Logic will ever materialize. But, as with Earth Logic, Water Logic provides a satisfying ending and leaves the world in a stable enough place that I didn't feel cheated out of the end of the story.

I think Fire Logic remains the strongest book of this series, but Water Logic is very much worth reading if you've read the previous books. Unfortunately, the books apparently didn't sell well, so this book is from a small press instead of Tor. You may have to order it on-line instead of finding it a local bookstore. But the whole series is very much worth reading. It's a refreshingly original take on fantasy and is much more thoughtful about human relationships and politics than most fantasy works.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-11-13

Last modified and spun 2014-12-22