Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

Sword of Fire and Sea
Erin Hoffman

I was sold on this one by the promise of fantasy with a touch of romance in it. Also – look at the cover. A guy. A girl. A griffin. It looks a little like a video game poster, but it’s pretty.  Sadly, my expectations of romance and a swash-buckling adventure fantasy were not met with this one. Let me tell you why.
The Premise: Captain Vidarian Rulorat, scion of a well-known sea-faring family, is asked by the fire priestesses to transport one of their member, Ariadel Windhammer, to a water temple far away. A trip through dangerous waters is made more perilous by those pursuing Ariadel for what she knows. Vidarian would love nothing more than to decline and be on his way, but because of an agreement his grandfather years ago, Vidarian is forced to take Ariadel where the priestesses want.  Of course, things do not go well, and before long Vidarian finds himself embroiled in world-changing events. Events that involve the Goddesses and their elements and could change the way magic in the world works.
My Thoughts: This book begins in fairly typical fantasy style with the start of a journey. Vidarian meets with fire priestess Endera, who offers him two sun emeralds, nearly priceless stones, in return for passage for someone on his ship. Vidarian would be set for life, but he says no when he realizes the passenger would be a fire priestess.  That’s when Endera reminds him of the pact his grandfather made many years ago, and Vidarian has no choice but adhere to it.
Sun emeralds. Fire priestesses. Perilous sea journeys. All by maybe page five. Great in theory, but unfortunately, I was already confused. I found it difficult to grasp Endera’s status amongst the priesthood (leader? spokeswoman?), why Vidarian would say no to allowing a fire priestess on his ship (superstition? politics? actual danger?), or what exactly his grandfather’s pact was (????). And I’m afraid those details aren’t really directly explained ever (unless I count the back blurb which explains more than the story did). This is a repeated pattern for the rest of the book.  Maybe I missed it or I’m supposed to make some educated guesses (which I did), but the story just swooped off to the next scene, making my questions moot.
Without much transition, the story moves to the sea, and Ariadel is on the ship. I was hoping that during the time at sea we would get to know Ariadel and Vidarian’s characters, but there is no time for any character development. Weeks go by in a blink and then the ship is attacked.  Vidarian and Ariadel are forced to travel by land. There were a lot of details about Vidarian’s ship and crew that we learn along the way, but much of it ended up being irrelevant to the plot because we hardly see them ever again. After that, I wasn’t sure what to pay attention to and what not to. I tried to orient myself by looking at the map provided in the book, but the locations mentioned in the story were more often than not, not on the map. This isn’t very far into the book so I am using it to give you an example of the general trend of the story. Variations of “journeying”, “interrupted by outside forces”, “reacting”, “change journey plans” are repeated over and over until the book ends.
When I look at other reviews of this book, people say that it is fast moving. I would say that this is true, except that it felt to me that the only thing that kept the story moving was that the characters were always reacting to something which kept them doing something. But the plot had no clear direction to the reader until we get to the end of the story. Because the goal of the characters was abstract (their plans were undecided before they got to their destination), I had trouble caring. And speaking of uncaring, I have never felt so much apathy towards characters as I did with this book. Vidarian is a ship’s captain, who loves his ship and the sea. That is pretty much his character. Ariadel was a young, relatively inexperienced, fire priestess. They seemed like nice people, but I never got a chance to get to know their personalities. When they start a relationship, it felt like it came out of left field. I had no idea either was even interested in one another because there was zero build-up.
What actually kept me interested is that there are a lot of great ideas and pieces of world building in here that I really liked. The griffins and their accoutrements were fascinating. And because the book was short (277 pages) and I had read 100 pages already, I stubbornly shouldered on hoping the story would become more clear. Unfortunately, so many ideas were tossed into the pot I felt like I was reading the fantasy equivalent of everything and the kitchen sink. New and pivotal characters and concepts are introduced late into the book, and older ones are discarded. Things changed at breakneck speed. Fierce editing and focusing more on character growth would have helped this story a lot.
Overall: Almost a DNF. I wanted to like this one, but I just couldn’t get into it. The characters had no development and I was always confused by what their goals were. I didn’t like how the story’s momentum was all forced and that so much was thrown in there with little pause. That just got boring after a while. With little to keep me connected to the story, I struggled to keep reading past the midway point.  What kept me from disliking the book completely was a detailed and imaginative world, but I wish that the world building didn’t compete so much with the plot that it was hard to tell the difference between a plot point and backdrop.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Calico_reaction – 6 (worth reading, with reservations)
Fantasy Literature – DNF
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell – “Surprised me in the end, in a good way”
My world.. in words and pages – ” I think this could be a good series, but a shaky start for me.”

4 thoughts on “Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

  1. Connection and character…it’s key to any work. If you can’t offer that, everything else can just get bogged down, no matter how much effort you’ve put into it. Pretty cover, though.

    • Yes, the cover is great. And yes, those two things are vital to enjoying a book and I wasn’t feeling them. On the other hand, there are people who loved this one, judging by the 5 stars on goodreads.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s