Elemental magic, pirates, and gryphons provide the backdrop and fantastical elements in Erin Hoffman’s debut novel Sword of Fire and Sea, the first book in The Chaos Knight trilogy. The novel tells of a young privateer, Vidarian, drafted into the service of the Fire Priestess, as part of an debt his family has with the Priestesses, which entails safely transporting a young Fire Priestess by the name of Ariadel through rough waters.
Hoffman throws the reader directly into the fray with little preamble or wasted time, somewhat refreshing for a novel set in such a richly developed world. As Vidarian progresses through the story and communicates through a mental bond with the Gryphons, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Dragons from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern saga. Where the similarities end; however, is in the assertiveness of Hoffman’s Gryphons who are much more in tune with Andovar, the world in which the novel takes place. There’s a sense these beings are comprised of a portion of magic, or at the very least, have a direct connection to the source of magic in the world. Hoffman’s use of the Gryphons as something both intimate, because of how Vidiarian and the other characters communicated with them, as well as foreign and magical, in the way they possess a shared knowledge and power of magic, is perhaps the strongest element of the novel. Through her characters, Hoffman imbues the Gryphons with a true sense of awe, and an initial feeling of them being the Other.
The characters are fairly typical – the roguish Vidarian is more than he seems in that he could be a potential savior, Ariadel is the aloof princess/priestess and there is, of course, some romantic tension between the two. The Fire Priestess of whom Ariadel is a member, come across as stoic and unfriendly, reminding me at times of the Aes Sedai of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. A major crux of the story revolves around the dwindling magic source as well as keeping Chaos in check. As it happens, the goddess of Chaos has been out of the picture for many, many years prior to the beginning of the novel.
The shortness of the novel may be both its strength and weakness. It seems clear that Hoffman is telling a longer story in a very well-developed world, both from a historical perspective (hinted and explained events prior to the novel, magic) and a global perspective (societies, cultures). Sword of Fire and Sea could have benefited from some more development of the characters to complement the hinted at developed world and backstory which serves as a pre-amble to the novel. I also felt as if some scenes weren’t entirely connected, things seemed to happen without a direct connection and I found this to be a major strike at the plausibility in Vidarian and Ariadel’s relationship. Towards the end, a character speaks in very modern vernacular, using the term “Correctamundo” which really took me out of the narrative of the story. On the other hand, this could be a hint of perhaps the origins or further background of the character uttering the word, or the world of Andovar itself.
So while I thought there were some interesting things to be found in Sword of Fire and Sea, it seems more a novel of what could have been. I can’t come down with a full avoidance or a full recommendation for the novel since it seems only the first portion of something larger. I type this with the knowledge that Sword of Fire and Sea is indeed the first of a series of books, but even with that exception, I felt it more of a good idea rather than a fully fleshed out thought of a novel.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford