Rachel Caine,
Weather Warden
#1: Ill Wind

(Roc, 2003)

No offense to Rachel Caine, but I wasn't expecting Weather Warden, Book One: Ill Wind to be nearly this good. It looked like entertaining, light fare, an easy read that could be enjoyed in my spare time without disrupting my schedule too much.

It's an easy read, anyway. Caine's writing has an accessible, familiar pace that makes her feel like an old favorite storyteller even to a new reader like me. About the rest I was wildly incorrect, as a full afternoon of slaughtered free time stands to testify.

Ill Wind insists that the world is constantly manipulated by powerful magic users, with powers following the rules of the elements. These Wardens control Fire, Earth and, when Air and Water are combined, Weather. Joanne Baldwin, a Weather Warden, has had a run of bad luck that's put her on the run from the Warden law enforcement agency. If caught, she faces the definite loss of her powers, her mind and possibly her life. To escape that fate, she'll have to rely on the powers of lost friends and find the cruelty to inflict her fate on another.

The plot may be driven by false accusations and supernatural threats, but it's held together by the net of personal relationships Joanne has built. Every action she takes is based on her trust or knowledge of the people she knows, even as her relationship to them is changed by events. It gives Joanne a centered, realistic personality often lacking in the unattached heroes of fantasy novels. Her connections to her human friends echo her connection to the weather, and combine to emphasize her dependence on the living world, and heighten the feeling of terror when she's threatened with losing those connections. Her concern for the people she loves, from her old friend Estella to her new flame David, creates vital sympathy for a character who could easily have been too powerful and distant. Her quest is hindered and abetted by characters who get a few pages or a few paragraphs of time, but feel as solid as Joanne.

Sadly, Caine's skill in portraying relationships falters in the central love affair between Joanne and the mysterious David. Caine is quick and gifted at conveying a sense of physical attraction and makes Joanne's almost instant obsession with her new companion ring true. But there's little to suggest the deep emotional connection they both claim; Joanne's thoughts are all about David's body, with very little focus on his behavior or her attraction to his personality. It may be hard to create a convincing emotional bond in just a few days, but Caine sets up the necessary surroundings for their instant bond. It just never manifests. Joanne's attraction to fellow weather worker Lewis feels far more real and sustainable, while being less central to the story.

It's a testament to Rachel Caine's talent for character creation that Weather Warden: Ill Wind works despite that small but central flaw. Many stories inject magic into the lives of humans; fewer can put the humanity back into magic. I look forward to meeting more of Caine's Weather Wardens.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 13 March 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.