Tag Archives: stories

Dark High Fantasy from a Great Indie Author: “Elf” by G.R. Sabian

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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.

 

Anyway.

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trains

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If you wait at any given train station on a certain date, a train will appear that isn’t on any schedule. If you board the train you will find that the interior, regardless of the exterior, will be very elegant and old fashioned.

Have a seat and enjoy the train ride. The steam engine is beautiful: plush seats, exotic decor, gorgeous windows and elegant color schemes.

The crew are refined and very eager to please. The ticket takers engage you in conversation. Every half an hour or so, a waiter comes by to offer you the most select dishes.

The landscape rushing by outside is incredibly lush and lovely. Lakes and mountains, deep forests and pristine beaches. Don’t try to recognize any of it. Not a single tree or peak or grain of sand corresponds to any known geography.

You are not alone. The train is full of passengers. Some are dressed like you; some are in clothing you recognize as ceremonial and foreign; a few are dressed very elegantly, in luxurious fashions as least one hundred and fifty years out of date. Others sport fashions you do not recognize, and carry items—electronics? accessories?—that you have never even imagined.

When the train makes its fourth stop (this will take several hours), get off.  If you disembark beforehand, you will disappear. If you manage to return—and some do—you will only be capable of speaking a language completely unknown to our world. You will panic, and weep for days on end. You will not eat. You will pine for the world you left behind until you waste into nothing.

If you disembark after the fourth stop?

No one knows.

Just be aware that every once in a while, a hideously dismembered corpse is recovered from the rails near stations. Typically these bodies are rotted masses of meat only vaguely recognizable as human. Despite the decomposition and the mess, they appear very suddenly, often in the time it takes to blink.

Many of the victims remain unidentified due simply to the appalling state of the remains. Those identified, however, all had stained and battered train tickets on their person, dated days, weeks, even months and years prior.

People will tell you the victims tragically fell or even threw themselves into the rail wells.

But surely you know better.