Book Review: Beldan's Fire, Book Three Of The Oran Trilogy Midori Snyder
One of the most important elements of any fantasy novel is the authenticity of the world that the author creates to set the story in. The more the reader can believe in its reality the more they will accept all that happens in the story. Creating a world isn't just a matter of physical description either; it's being able to take a series of elements that together form an entity the reader accepts without question.
Language, culture, belief systems, physical characteristics of people, architecture, history, philosophies, social structures, and even educational systems are all things that no matter how briefly they are mentioned give us clues to the nature of the world a story takes place in. Of course the author doesn't want to spend time lecturing so all this information has to come out naturally in the telling of the story.
Characterization is always one of the key ways of developing a world, because the behaviour of characters, their interaction with others based on their place in the social structure, and their attitudes towards various institutions, tells how the world treats its people. How people view education, how children are treated, the role women play in society, and how a person's status is decided tells you plenty about a world's nature.
Of course in fantasy novels the other key element is the nature or form that the fantastic element in the world takes. Like everything else the reader needs to believe in its reality within the context of the world or the whole story falls apart. Here again the less obvious the author is about introducing it into the story the better. The more she can make it so the reader understands its nature without having been told directly the better.
In the first two books of her Oran Trilogy, New Moon and Sadar's Keep Midori Snyder established the world her story takes place in through those means. In some ways it has been like watching the development of a Polaroid picture as have come more into focus the more we have read. Through getting to know the characters, the gradual unfolding of Oran's history, and the depictions of the social hierarchy, by the time we have reached the final book of the trilogy, Beldan's Fire we have as clear a picture of the world as the characters do.
Beldan's Fire starts with our focus split between characters and locations scattered across the whole of the island country. The Fire Queen Zorah's power is starting to weaken with her repeated attempts to control the new elemental queens who have come into the world. Each time her grip slips, another little bit of the world disappears as the forces of chaos reclaim the world.
All that can save Oran is if the fourth elemental queen, water, is found and a new Queen's Knot is formed that will shield the world from chaos. But Zorah will do all that she can to prevent this happening because she needs that power to preserve her immortality. Two hundred years ago she killed or incapacitated her three sister queens for just that reason and worked to eliminate all traces of the power in the world save for hers. Any child born with the ability to control water, air, earth, or fire is killed before they could reach maturity.
Jobber, the new fire element, and Shedwyn, earth, have stayed at New Moon, (the name of the movement dedicated to overthrowing the Queen), headquarters Sadar Keep, while Lirrel, the air element, is travelling to find the water element. The plan is for them to meet in Beldan where Jobber will confront Zorah and replace her as Fire Queen. The four will then travel into inner space and create the new Queen's Knot before chaos has a chance to destroy Oran.
As everybody knows plans never go as expected, and this one is no exception. Each time Zorah loses a little of her control parts of the country literally cease to exist. Sadar Keep and parts of the old castle in Beldan are some of the first areas to collapse and vanish into nothingness. When Jobber and Shedwyn find themselves without a roof over their heads they decide to leave for Beldan early and not wait for Lirrel to contact them.
But then Shedwyn's pregnancy becomes complicated and she is forced to stop and Jobber has to go on alone. They just have to hope they'll be able to meet at the Queen's knot in inner space without being physically near each other. Lirrel has had early success in finding the new water element, but unfortunately the occupying Silean army is after her too and so she has to figure out how to get her off the island where she lives and sneak her back to the mainland under their noses.
What's remarkable about these books is how well Midori Snyder has created the world that these events take place in. The characters fit in with their environment perfectly, to the point that people from the country and city are easily distinguished by their manners of speech and their attitudes. It's very easy to see each main character in your mind's eye and watch them move about their environment. You can almost hear and smell the sounds and scents of Beldan when you see it through the eyes of Jobber.
The descriptions of each of the elemental queens when they are tapping into their sources of power are so vivid that you can feel almost feel the water washing your feet and the air moving your hair. Of course the expression the "earth moved" takes on a whole other meaning for Shedwyn and she frightens her partner nearly half to death.
The Oran Trilogy is a marvellous creation on the part of Midori Snyder as she has successfully brought a whole new world to life for our enjoyment. The characters she has created are unique individuals who are interesting to spend time with and even the supposed bad guys, while not the nicest of individuals, are more than just stereotypes.
Beldan's Fire is a wonderful conclusion to a well-crafted and beautifully executed trilogy. It's wonderful to see it back in print again after all the years of it being out of print. That's a trend I'd like to see continue with other deserving titles having been lost for a number of years being restored.