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Monday, March 03, 2014

Elfhunter, by C. S. Marks

I recently read Elfhunter, by C. S. Marks. It's a lot like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

How is this book like Tolkien? Here are some of the ways. It's a well-crafted book of sword and sorcery fantasy, set in an earth-like world, or maybe even on earth, in temperate deciduous forest, with mountains, rivers and lakes. There are elves, living in isolated kingdoms. These elves are potentially immortal, and there is some sort of realm where they go if they are killed in battle, or just decide to die. They can marry humans, but usually don't, and, if they do, they know that they the human will die, leaving the elf to grieve on, and they know that they won't be re-united after death. There are dwarves who live in underground kingdoms. Dwarves and elves don't get along very well. Tolkien barely acknowledged that there were female dwarves. Marks doesn't so much as mention them. Neither author tells us how large groups of beings living underground could get enough food. There are no orcs, or, more correctly, there are Ulcas, which are a lot like Tolkien's orcs. There are humans here, who look a lot like elves, but are not immortal, at least not in their human bodies. The only humans in the book are Rangers, who patrol the land, much like Aragorn and his compatriots in Tolkien's work. If you like Tolkien's Middle-Earth, you should like Alterra. But there are no hobbits, and most of the characters in this book are not human.

Elfhunter is well-written, and character-driven, although there is a plot, and there are settings that are important. I found almost no usage errors. (This is a second edition, and perhaps some of errors in the earlier version were eliminated.) Marks does use "'ere." rather than "ere," for some reason, and she uses it fairly often. There is a thorough glossary, which is interesting. I read the Kindle edition, which has a good working table of contents.

There are differences from Tolkien. As indicated above, there aren't many humans in this book. There's no Gandalf to come in and save the day, and even offer his life for others. The leading character is a female elf scout, Gaelen, and her best friend, and co-scout, Nelwyn, is also a female. Both of them fall in love, and those that they fall in love with, Rogond, a Ranger, and Galador, an elf from a different group of elves, are also major characters. There is a quest, but it's to destroy an evil being, Gorgon, the Elfhunter, rather than to destroy a ring of power. That's all I'll say about the plot, except to note that the book does come to an ending which is a reasonable closure, although there are suggestions that there is more to come. (There are at least two more books in the series, which I have yet to read. The third book has not yet come out in a second edition.)

There are beings known as Asari. They don't seem to be elves, or equivalent to the Istari, Tolkien's wizards, but some sort of higher immortal being. By the time of the events in the book, most of the original twelve of these have passed from the earth. At least one of them has joined with Wrothgar, the supreme evil being of Alterra.

There are quite a few scenes of violence, in battle and single attacks, and the book is not for the squeamish. There's no overt sex in the book, although some characters fall in love.

Like Tolkien, there is a struggle between good and evil, and we usually know which is which. There was no good in Tolkien's orcs, and little or none in the Ulcas. The Elfhunter is portrayed as being incapable of good, or even of appreciating beauty in nature, although there are hints that these characteristics might possibly change in the future. Here's a key quotation on that point:
He heard Gaelen muttering in her soft, clear voice: "If only you could know how beautifully the stars burn tonight… if only you could feel the longing in my heart for them… and for you." "But…I do feel it," Gorgon muttered in reply, though he was not aware of doing so. His eyes were closed now, for he concentrated entirely upon the brilliant field of silver lights that wheeled above him. "Such beautiful lights…so bright…so cold. Like cold fire burning for eternity…."

Several characters pray, although it's not clear what or who they are praying to.

I liked this book, and have begun the second volume. Thanks for reading.

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