*(I couldn’t find a back cover, so I took the official description I could find and pasted it on black.)
The Five Elements is a totally functional book. It was exciting at points, and kept me reading to see what happened, and there were some neat scenes and ideas scattered through, but at the end I felt it had been a decent experience, rather than an unforgettable one.
The characters sometimes felt rather flat: it was mostly fine, but since the characters all had one main facet and little else, after that was initially developed, it got somewhat less interesting. This was also an especially large problem with the villains, who had limited motivations aside from wanting unlimited power.
Unfortunately, while the plot and world started out feeling promising, after the first half both descended into a state of eh. Norwynne was great, and the world of that city was really interesting, especially with the Undercity and all. Then the story left the city for the wilds. The tech-magic stuff was intriguing and promising: for a while it seemed like the details of the encorder and attunement system would be important to the plot. In the full scheme of things, while theoretically that knowledge should be important, it was not particularly well woven into the story. I never felt like magical events really were totally sensible given our knowledge of the world. Instead, it felt like something happened and Aaron or a villain explained how/why it did in context of the world. Additionally, there were some gaping holes in the villains’ various plans, and as those come to light in the later half, it throws a dash of cold water on the immersion. I will say the mystery and confusion around some of the villains kept me distracted until the very climax. However, at the end I was bummed out by the revelation of what the Fifth Element is. The Fifth Element feels like something that is pretty prone to tropeing, so if you use it, you want to make it something special rather than something eh.
I probably will get the sequel (The Nullification Engine) on the Kindle, but if I do, it will be out of interest in the plot, structure, and worldbuilding aspects rather than a particular interest in the plot or characters. (Okay, maybe I am interested in the relationships between Ensel Re, Serena, and Aaron, but that’s really not the main motivator.) Since the Five Elements was first published in 2010, while the Nullification Engine was published in 2013, it will be interesting to see whether the authors’ style has changed.
OBLIGATORY KINDLE NOTE: I kindled this. On a Kindle.
COVER ART REVIEW: It’s rather… abstract? Conveys the theme, if little else. But very shiny!