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Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Elfland" by Freda Warrington (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Freda Warrington Website
Order "Elfland" HERE or Read an Excerpt using Amazon Search Inside

INTRODUCTION: I have not heard of the author's work before and the title and blurb are a bit far from what I look for in a novel, so imagine my surprise when I opened "Elfland" in a bookstore and got hooked from the first page.

I bought "Elfland" the same day and I liked it quite a lot, though it truly confounded my expectations to the end, being a mixture of fantasy and literary fiction that worked great on the mainstream, literary level and pretty good on the fantasy level, where the "Elfland" world building is superb, but the contemporary world is "paper thin" verging on the solipsistic, only the characters' relationships having depth and texture. I am truly curious where the series goes next.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The essential core of the novel is about the relationships between the members of two families, the Wilder and the Fox families who are well to do people inhabiting some isolated corner of England. The Wilder family lives in a forbidden looking mansion, isolated from the village and with the two boys Sam at Jon enrolled at private posh schools, while Auberon Fox is a pillar of the community who builds houses that his wife Jessica decorates; their three children Rosie, Matthew and Lucas go to the local schools.

But there is a twist, both families are "elves" or Vaethyr, also known as aetherials, the local village is inhabited by several other Vaethyr families and there is a nearby Gate to Elfland of which Lawrence Wilders is the guardian, while Auberon is his main "lieutenant".

When the novel starts several dramatic events happen: Lawrence refuses to continue opening the Gate due to unnamed dangerous things on the other side waiting to break onto Earth, while his wife Ginny seems to have a breakdown and later leaves him. Some years later, Lawrence returns with a new wife, Sapphire, a human this time and it seems that things will return to normal but Lawrence still refuses to open the gate and the Vaethyr villagers grow more and more impatient and angry with him, so only Auberon' trust and support keeps them from trying to "depose" him.

Rosie, now a teenager and later a young woman though not undergoing the "aetherial ritual that marks her as a Vaethyr" since the gate is still closed, will get drawn deeper and deeper in both the two families secrets and in the mystery of Elfland and she anchors the novel, while the rest of the characters above have important roles, each dealing with their heritage in his or her own way; the several humans in their circle like Rosie's best friend Faith or Matthew' school friend Alastair who are attracted to the Vaethyr like moths to a flame, find out that the glitter of the Vaethyr hides heartbreak and danger.

Elfland is beautifully written and the clear style and well drawn characters are its main attraction, while the mixture of contemporary family drama and haunting fantastic works with the caveat in the introduction about the contrast between the imagery and "solid feel" of Elfland itself and the almost shadow like Earth, where no one really seems to live except the novel characters. And that is the main failing of the novel, that the relationship between the Vaethyr and humans, the place of the Vaethyr on earth, even their reason for incorporating as humans are not truly explored. The England of the novel is a very generic ones, with the only markers of time being cars and mobile phones, but otherwise a very one dimensional place.

Overall I liked "Elfland" a lot but the lack of "reality" of Earth bothered me and it almost broke my suspension of disbelief several times, only the beautiful writing and the interest I developed in seeing what happens to the characters keeping my interest in finishing it. Though the ending is worth it since it sets up for a sequel in which hopefully the issues above will be explored in more depth, the world building will get more detailed, while keeping the same superb prose and great characters.

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