These are the first and third books in a fantasy trilogy in which each book apparently stands fairly well on its own; at least, the ones I read did. I haven't yet found the second book, The Moonbane Mage.
They're set in a world made largely of crystal and occupied by five sentient races, one of which is only discovered in the third book. Walkers are a conservative, agricultural humanoid species; their mages tend to specialize in the more sadistic forms of magic. They have two genders and an egalitarian society, and lay eggs.
Delan, who hatched from an egg of dubious pedigree, is a misfit: deformed, slow to develop, and asexual. You can probably guess where this is going. Yes, id is not a Walker at all, but an Aeyrie, whose hermaphroditic sexual organs develop, along with their wings, at puberty. Unfortunately for Delan, id is enslaved by a Walker magician and embroiled in Aeyrie plots before id can claim ids true identity.
This intense Ugly Duckling story is an old one, but made fresh by the odd setting and lack of human characters. Ara's Field
picks up about twenty years later, when three of the five races have formed a loose alliance. Delan reappears, having apparently changed a great deal in the interim, along with a number of other sympathetic characters. This book suffers from the author's good will toward alienkind: virtually everyone is basically good at heart, and even the characters who are trying to destroy the world
prove amenable to reasonable discussion. (A good deal more so than the average Bush or Kerry supporter.) The end of the world is averted-- offstage.
These books sum up both what I like and dislike about Laurie Marks' novels, with the exception of her most recent Logic
novels, which are more integrated and accomplished. They're heartfelt, ambitious, and intelligent; sex-positive, feminist, and humane; and avoid many of the common fantasy cliches.
On the other hand, they are, if not quite cliched, at least thoroughly unsurprising to anyone who's read many books by Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, or Eleanor Arnason: wars may be averted rather than fought, the grubby little details of everyday life are as important as the grand society-changing moments, every society has good and bad points, nobody's pure good or pure evil, and few people are purely heterosexual. But Marks isn't content to present events and let the reader decide what message to take from them: she has to explain and comment on and elucidate everything, and it gives her novels a rather medicinal air.
In some ways I see Laurie Marks as a kind of poor man's Ursula Le Guin: they have similar concerns, but Marks' prose lacks Le Guin's wit and poetic clarity. Marks' ideas revolve around a lot of the same issues, but without the single unforgettable image that crystallizes them: the child in the basement in "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," the true names in A Wizard of Earthsea
, the time dilation in "Semley's Necklace."
My other problem with these books is that for fantasy, there isn't enough magic. I don't mean not enough spell-casting; I mean not enough wondrousness. Everything is very deliberately mundane. While I did enjoy the books, I think I would have liked them better as sf, where a sentence like this would not have given me such a moment of total agreement with Le Guin's essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," on tone in fantasy:
"Orchths and Mers both are a migratory, food-gathering people with homogenous societies."
Coffee and ink has a nice overview of these and the rest of Marks' books here:http://www.livejournal.com/users/coffee_and_ink/366227.html