Keeper Teeka left his home at the Emerald Keep for his first Contract with Senior Hunter Brandt out in the deserts of their world Persis. Disaster hits only two months into his Contract when Brandt is killed on his Claim, leaving Teeka without a Contract far from his family and Keep. When Teeka decides to Claim the find for himself and Brandt’s heir, he is surprised to find Brandt’s heir is none other than Senior Hunter Quill, a scarred, enigmatic Hunter who keeps to himself. Quill offers to protect Teeka and together they decide to work the mine Teeka found to both honor Brandt’s memory and to register the Claim for themselves.
The head of the Hunters Guild gives Quill and Teeka one months time to work the mlne. If they don’t finish the lode, another Hunter may claim it and all their hard work will be for nothing. As Hunter Quill mines the Claim, Teeka keeps for him, cooking, cleaning, and making sure all of their equipment runs smoothly. Teeka also learns the process of mining the gems, while their attraction to each other grows daily. But Keepers without a Contract must keep themselves chaste and their reputation clear of all gossip, although the situation between them is not making that easy.
When Brandt’s death turns out to be murder instead of an accident, Quill and Teeka’s suspicions are raised, even about each other. And when others falls sick and Quill and Teeka come under attack, they must decide to trust each other and stand together or lose everything, even their chance at love.
Emerald Fire is a richly layered novel by two authors previously unknown to me. Noon and Wilder have pulled together elements from cultures around the world as well as fabricated many of their own to build a gorgeously textured world called Persis. They have left nothing out in their world building, from geology to biology with various habitats each with its own unique flora and fauna. Their vivid descriptions of Persis’ differing cultures come complete with separate beliefs, religions, government officials, laws, clothing, food, education, and transportation, I mean everything! One of my favorite creations of theirs is a truffle. A furred desert animal, it has a trunk, two sets of eyelids, short trunk like legs, and an endearing personality. I kept picturing a cross between a miniature elephant and a dog (the mind boggles). I want one, perhaps two, just like Snuffles and Sniffles in the story. And the cooking! We get an intimate glimpse into Teeka’s meals including a roast he made of a sandcat (along with his butchering technique), supplemented with roasted onions, moss bulbs, spices, and a sauce. And Teeka’s desserts, including his famous lavender berries cake had my mouth watering. They came up with spices and cooking methods and complete menus – just amazing.
With some stories, an excess of minutiae works against the plot, swamping it with too much information. Here the opposite is true; the details are seamlessly blended into the narrative, so like the spices in a dish, the details add depth and flavor to the story being created. We learn how the tents work to exclude the heat of the two suns, the gloves and clothing worn to insulate the people, their inside garb, even the “necessities,” usually shared by a group of tents, where all shower and relieve themselves. We get to wander into the market place to buy teas and vegetables or watch Teeka knitting socks or rugs from threads made of all types of matter, animal and vegetable much like here. Each element serving to wet our interest in life as it is lived on Persis. I cannot congratulate the authors enough on the outstanding job they have done here. Just remarkable.
Noon and Wilder build their characters the same way they built their world, with attention to detail and dimension. No character is truly known from the start, not to the reader, not to each other. Emerald Keeper Teeka starts off young, earnest, sure of his talents as a Keeper but he is only two months into his first Contract and feels every bit the novice coming from a sheltered background. He delights in each new sensation and experience and is devastated by Brandt’s death. I had so many questions at the beginning. What is a Keeper? What is the training they keep referring to? What is a Contract? Part of the joy of this story is that the answers are unveiled in small increments as the story unfolds. The character of Senior Hunter Quill is built in conjunction with that of Teeka, both characters fleshing out and becoming real the more we get to know them and their backstory (as told to each other). Their secondary and side characters all equally authentic, all equally detailed.
I again wavered between a 4.5 and 5 rating with this story. But a few things kept it from perfection with me. Actually, that would be one thing, the ending. Teeka’s future seemed headed in the right direction, as is the relationship between two main characters I have come to love. But there was still so much more to be settled. I can’t give specifics here as I don’t want to spoil this wonderful book for anyone, I just felt that there was just a few too many loose ends left not tucked in to the beautiful tapestry they wove for us. Teeka would never have left one of his knitting projects in such a state nor did I expect it given all that went before in the story. I hope both authors can be persuaded to continue Teeka and Quill’s saga. They have made a great world and I, for one, am ready for more journeys there.
Cover: Cover art by Alessio Brio, an artist I am also not familiar with. Here she takes the colors I usually don’t like in a cover and uses them to create a stunning cover redolent of the heat beating down on the desert dunes. Outstanding job. Conveys the location of the story and the authors names are clear and easy to read.