Review: An Apprentice to Elves
When AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES showed up in my mailbox and I saw Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s names on the cover I totally squeed.
Until I discovered it was book 3 in the Iskryne series–how had I not heard of Bear’s new stuff? I loved her Eternal Sky series–start with RANGE OF GHOSTS (EBR Review); I read Monette’s MELUSINE and was meh about the story but not her writing craft, which is pretty amazing. I stomped around grumpily for a bit, but decided to dig in anyway without even looking up the first two books. Turns out you can read this book on its own.
Set in an alternate Norse/Germanic wintery island in the north, the men of Iskryne can bond with the local telepathic wolves, with whom they defend the populace from trolls and wyverns. But a new threat is creeping its way into the land: the Rheans (alternate Romans) are intent on conquest, and have the resources to do it.
Alfgyfa, the daughter of the hero in the first two books, Isolfr, has been sent to apprentice to the alf, a dwarf-like race who dwell in the mountains. She will learn metalsmithing with her father’s friend Tin. Over the next seven years she grows into a young woman, is trained in smithing, and learns how to wield the weapons she can create. But she misses her father’s wolfheall, her friends, and especially the wolves that were an integral part of her life. Women are forbidden bonding to wolves, but she can still hear them, and one day while in the alf underground city, hears a young wolf trapped in the unused caverns. When she saves him, she discovers the female Greensmoke, the alpha of the wild pack, and thus begins their tentative friendship.
Meanwhile, Otter, a former Rhean slave and now the woman who manages Isolfr’s wolfheall, witnesses as the men prepare for war. Fargrimr is the lord of Siglufjordhur, which is currently under occupation by the Rheans. He, along with his household, built a temporary heall to keep an eye on the Rheans as they slowly turn their foothold into an invasion.
It is through these PoVs (along with Tin and a few secondary characters) that we watch the story unfold, for AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES isn’t only about Alfgyfa, but about the rich world Bear and Monette have created. The alf culture is a stark contrast to the humans. The climate affects the war. The wolves play an integral part of their lives. In Otter’s storyline especially we get to see the day-to-day life, what it takes to feed people in a harsh climate.
Bear and Monette are pros at this point, so the story moves forward quickly, the pacing excellent–even if it feels like they jump around during the war at the end. But we don’t need to know about every battle and its details (if you really want details you should be reading Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles starting with THE LAST KINGDOM (EBR Review)–that guy can write battles like nobody’s business and they’re awesome). Even the little things we learn from page one and throughout the book build up to the exciting events that lead to the climax, they weave the story elements together so well. I rarely found myself confused or lost, despite not having read the first two books. The naming conventions took about half the book to get used to, and Fargrimr was in particular a character that threw me off, but they are things that don’t take away from the story, more like add to its foreignness.
The authors tell us a story of loyalty, friendship, fortitude, and love. I may not read the first two books because of what those stories contain (sexual content is typical for Monette’s stuff, and I am not interested in M/M stories personally), but APPRENTICE was worth my time.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: A handful of instances
- Violence: Mostly at the end, but not particularly gruesome
- Sex: Minor references and some teenage crushing