After a multi-year absence from blogging, this is an overt but well-deserved review for my best friend’s first(ish) novel. (I say firstish because this friend published a novel before, but took it down after a while for editing purposes. It’s a great book, too, but as of today isn’t back for sale yet.)
G.R. and I have been close for most of my adult life. We bonded over our love of writing (and reading) dark fiction with a fantastic slant. This includes everything from straight-up horror to all kinds of fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, and so on. In addition to being a great writer, G.R. is a fantastic editor and I would be a weaker writer without our friendship.
“Elf” is one of the stranger novels I’ve read. The book takes familiar fantasy tropes – beautiful elves, dire world-wasting threats, quests, dragons, magical creatures, and gorgeous nymphs – and uses them to create a story that is very singular and dark. It’s a combination of high fantasy, dark fantasy, and science fiction.
I think the blurb on the page puts it better than I can, but I’m a reviewer so I’ll do my best to summarize. The narrative follows the journey of Euthain Kurowin, a member of a society of elves who are deeply, intrinsically connected emotionally and psychically. One elf’s joy is every elf’s joy; one elf’s pain is every elf’s pain.
Euthain is a very privileged member of this society. He’s the son of two renowned leaders and has everything an elf could want. The problem is, Euthain doesn’t want what other elves want. His society is extraordinarily peaceful. They’re so in tune with nature that they can’t stand even to eat meat. Euthain, however, is essentially violent, jealous, and emotionally miserable. As such, he doesn’t have a place in a society that basically reads his mind, a society that recoils from everything he feels and thinks – dark, horrible things they can’t even comprehend. This results in him being effectively shunned, even within his own family.
Right about the time he finally gives up and decides to exile himself for the good of his community and himself, an old, forgotten evil emerges. Even as his people panic, Euthain is euphoric: here is his chance! A war is coming, a violence his people can’t even begin to imagine. He sees the chance to channel his violent impulses and callous nature in such a way that he can be a warrior, a defender. But when he comes face to face with this threat, he unexpectedly finds himself beguiled. He has to make a choice: fight for his people, the community that reviles and fears him…or fight alongside the only person who understands him.
So, a couple of things. First, “Elf” is not for everyone. It’s violent, dark, and Euthain – while presented in a way that allows the reader to empathize and even root for him – is objectively a terrible man. He tries not to be. He struggles to be a force for good. He wants to be so much more than he is, and he really does work hard in pursuit of that goal. But he doesn’t work hard enough. Thus, he’s not a good person, and does many, many, many things a bad person would do. Some of these are highly objectionable. But it’s part of what makes him a well-rounded, believable character. You may not love him, but you want him to succeed at his ultimate goal.
Second, there’s the portrayal of women. Does Euthain have issues with women? Absolutely. Is his culture and society dismissive and unkind to a subset of women? Yes. Is the story disrespectful of women? No. A lot of what we see, as readers, is through Euthain’s perspective and a lot of his issues are explored, but not in any way condoned. Besides Euthain, the other main perspective is that of a young woman, and I think she’s portrayed not only realistically, but as the story’s only real, true-hearted hero.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let me emphasize that “Elf” is extremely well-written. It’s concise yet poetic, clearly composed, and proceeds at a great clip. The world-building is also exceptional. It’s immersive; from the first page I could see, hear, and feel this world that is by turns utopian and hellish. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was a wonderful treat.
I loved it. If you like a good, dark fantasy, I think you’ll like this too.
Hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity, and if so, here is the link:
Note: I love reading indie books (not just ones my friends write.) I’m getting back into reviewing after a long absence. If you need reviews, then (time permitting) I’d love to help out. No charge, of course, although a free copy of the book would be greatly appreciated because I’m kind of poor. I’m honest but kind, and will let you read the review before I post it if you like.
Second Note: I also do editorials, copyediting, and line-editing. Not for free, but not expensive either. Please understand that my fly-by-night blog posting really is not indicative of my writing and editing prowess; I’m an experienced freelancer and I swear I know what I’m doing.