Beth Cato concludes her BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy with Roar of Sky (2018), bringing the story of clandestine geomancer Ingrid Carmichael, which began in Breath of Earth and continued in Call of Fire, to an action-packed close. This review will contain some spoilers for events in previous books, so proceed with caution.
Badly wounded and permanently debilitated after her desperate fight in Seattle against Ambassador Blum, Ingrid and her friends Cy Jennings and Fenris Braun flee to Hawaii aboard the Palmetto Bug, a small airship designed by Fenris, seeking information about Ingrid’s family history — which might include no less a personage than Madam Pele herself. Being descended from divinity would explain quite a lot about Ingrid’s uniquely powerful geomancy, but will clarification provide assistance in Ingrid’s search for her mentor Mr. Sakaguchi and her dear friend Lee Fong, or give her insight in how to stop Ambassador Blum’s plans to take over the world via the combined Unified Pacific forces of the Japanese and American militaries? After a very quick, but ultimately fruitful, layover in Hawaii, the Palmetto Bug returns to California and onward to Arizona, where Ingrid and Cy have reason to believe that they have a chance to throw a massive spanner into Blum’s machinations. It will require marshalling all their allies, including various humans, a growing population of pastry-loving sylphs, and the mysterious qilin, just to have a fighting chance.
Roar of Sky was definitely more on par with Breath of Earth in terms of plot continuity and focus than Call of Fire was, and character development is generally good as well, though I continue to object to Cy and Ingrid acting like a comfortable old married couple who understand each other perfectly after knowing each other for only a couple of months. As sweet as their interactions are, it was, essentially, love at first sight for them, with no appreciation for the possibility that their tumultuous and life-threatening circumstances might be contributing to an accelerated intensity of feelings or physical intimacy. A small nod toward that prospect would have gone a long way for me.
My biggest complaint about BLOOD OF EARTH is its timeframe in general. Breath of Earth begins on April 15, 1906, and Roar of Sky’s final day (excluding the epilogue, which takes place “months later”) is on May 24, 1906. I needed a greater sense of time’s passage in order to understand how things/events/people have been maneuvered into place by Ambassador Blum, by the Japanese, and by the Chinese resistance fighters. Cato’s focus is so tightly on Ingrid that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on outside her bildungsroman. Ingrid has been such a sheltered person all her life that it feels like the series is constantly bumping up against the limits of her knowledge and experience, and I kept wanting to see events or people from other perspectives.
However, I do love everything about the magic system, and Cato’s exploration of geomancy and its potential uses for good and ill is thoughtful and feels sturdy, like it could actually exist. Madam Pele is literally awesome. The sylphs are fun without becoming twee. Captain Sutliffe’s return was a good touch, along with the qilin and its guandao blade, further establishing that there’s so much more to this world than Ingrid has an understanding for or any experience with. I like the contrast between the various settings, such as Hawaii and Arizona, and appreciated her respectful treatment of marginalized and downtrodden people. There’s a healthy amount of diversity overall, but it’s kept within the boundaries established by historical precedent. Historical details feel period-appropriate, and I noticed fewer anachronistic word choices and expressions this time around. Cato’s inclusion of a moving-pictures theatre and the New Jersey film studios was a nice touch. The alternate history of this world, going as far back as kermanite and geomancy use by the Roman Empire, felt so well-established and solid that the breakneck pace of the primary narrative felt much weaker by comparison.
Still, I enjoyed reading Roar of Sky, and was glad to see how the various plotlines and character arcs came together. Cato’s a writer with great imagination and an eye for history, and I’d recommend this series for fantasy readers who like their adventure stories leavened with a hearty palmful of romance.
With 2018’s Roar of Sky, the third book in Beth Cato’s BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy, outlaw geomancer Ingrid gets a little help from a close relative, her grandmother, Pele the volcano goddess. The goddess’s help is not what Ingrid expects, but it carries her through the entire final installment, as Ingrid, Cy and Mr. Fenris struggle to conquer a literal flying citadel.
This review may contain mild spoilers for the first two books.
In Seattle, in the second book, Call of Fire, Ingrid managed to evade the kitsune who calls herself Ambassador Blum, but the aftermath of that struggle left her with a debilitating neuromuscular problem that incapacitates her. During their adventures in Seattle, they became aware of the mega-airship Excalibur, a flying fortress, bound for China. The warship will mean the end of the Chinese people and the country’s annexation by an increasingly bellicose Japan. To Cy’s shock, the brilliant engineer who made the behemoth fly is none other than his twin sister Maggie, who he thought was dead.
In their own airship the Palmetto Bug, Ingrid, Cy and Fenris are now on the run, hunted, and on their way to the Vassal State of the Sandwich Islands, which we would call Hawaii. While it seems like half the world’s armies are arrayed against them, they have a few tools in their toolkit: Fenris and Cy themselves, with their engineering genius, Ingrid’s increasing power, and a flock of sylphs who adopted Ingrid in the second book, who Will Work for Baked Goods. The sylphs are a mixed blessing here. They have adopted the Palmetto Bug as their new nest, and their sheer volume poses some problems for the craft. For Fenris, in particular, they require some personal adjustment.
Probably my favorite part of Roar of Sky takes place in Hawaii. To approach Madame Pele, Cy and Ingrid join a tourist group on their way to the crater on the big island. Halema’uma’u is the home of the goddess, but the tourists treat it like a theme park. One group enrages Ingrid by sticking hot dogs on sticks and roasting them over the lava. When a scruffy white dog makes an appearance, fans of Pele will smile knowingly — I did. The dog is much more than it seems, and later, when Pele takes human form, she delivers important information to Ingrid. Pele speaks to Ingrid not as a goddess, but as a grandmother — her help is familial, not magical.
Soon the travelers are on their way back to the mainland, to rescue Ingrid’s old teacher Mr. Sakaguchi, find the flying fortress — and reconnect with Ingrid’s Chinese friend Lee. Along the way they meet a person presumed dead… and the ghost of a person who is dead. The ghost has to atone for actions taken in life, and he is an uneasy ally in the second half of the book.
As before, Ingrid’s adversary is the kitsune, Ambassador Blum, whose plans for world dominion from a throne in Japan are closer to fruition than ever. A further complication has emerged; an influenza-like disease has swept Atlanta, where the Excalibur was launched, and the disease seems to be following the airship’s ports. More disturbing, Ingrid remembers an injection the Chinese tong protecting Lee made her take. When they find a cache of treasure and personal items, as well as syringes, in a Chinese hiding place, Ingrid fears that it is the Chinese themselves who have created the disease. If this is true, she doubts there is anything she can do to change the swell of public hatred for them — and she must rethink whether they deserve her support.
Roar of Sky is packed to the gills with complications, and features ghosts, airships, magic, spies, enchanted weapons, fantastical creatures and even gods. I kept waiting for the final face-off with Blum, and I was not disappointed. The ghost’s motivations for helping them were believable and managed to redeem a character I distinctly disliked in the earlier books. The final battle was dramatic, intense, complicated and wonderful. Cato balances on a fine line with the trope of “destiny” here — although Ingrid has possession of a sacred weapon, it is not hers to wield. On the other hand, she is not a “handmaiden” whose plot quest is to serve a male hero — she has a destiny of her own, unfolding with danger and mystery.
I thought a few things resolved a little too quickly — among them the puzzle of the supposedly-dead sister Maggie. A few discoveries aboard the Excalibur seemed coincidental and convenient, too, but frankly, the final scene with Blum made it all worthwhile.
This mix of steampunk with elemental magic worked well for me, as did Ingrid’s physical problems. They were realistic. I liked watching this fiercely powerful and independent woman come to grips with a disability, adjust to it, and still carry on. And I loved Pele. Roar of Sky brings the BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy to a triumphant close.