One of the most important elements of any fantasy novel is the authenticity of its setting. The more the reader can believe in a natural retelling of a fictional reality the more he or she will accept the events. 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, architecture, history, philosophies, social structures, and even educational systems are all aspects that clue us into the nature of the novelistic world. At the same time characterization — from personal behaviour to familial and class-oriented interaction — is one of the key ways to develop that world, even a fantasy setting which depends for its success on the subtlety rendered nature or form of the fantastic element. The reader needs to believe in its reality within the context of the world – or the whole story falls apart.
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 by these less-obvious and nuanced means. In some ways it has been like watching the development of a Polaroid picture as circumstances 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 lies in the prospect of the fourth elemental queen, water, being found and a new Queen's Knot 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.
Of course, plans never go as expected. 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. The restoration of deserving titles is a trend I'd like to see continue.