Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Elfhunter

Today's book review is Elfhunter by C. S. Marks.

This is a high fantasy story which admits on the acknowledgments page that it's inspired by Tolkien.  Some might call it derivative or even a ripoff.  The world is a pretty standard fantasy world with some aspects that are excessively similar to Middle Earth, and some of the elements of the world building and story background seemed painfully cliché, especially at first.  But the plot is not recycled from Lord of the Rings any farther than involving a company who go off on a quest to defeat evil; it's actually a good story, though there are a few slightly rough edges in the writing.  (I wish she'd worked with an editor who'd made her change a few of the names.  Calling the orcs "Olcas" is more painful than just calling them orcs; if you don't want to call them orcs, then make up a name that doesn't look like it's trying to get as close as possible without infringing on a trademark.  Maybe I shouldn't be too critical on this point, since it's my own inability to name things that keeps me from trying to write myself.)  Once I got through the frustration that the world is so similar to Middle-Earth, though, the biggest frustration I had with the story was the recurring theme of eternal monogamy.  It seems that once any of her characters falls in love, they can never fall in love with anyone else, even if their first love rejects them utterly or dies.  While it can seem very romantic, it is not actually believable to begin with, nor is it something I *want* to believe in.  An immortal elf whose beloved has died a thousand years ago, but still can't get over it, is not a character (or at least an aspect of character) that I want to read about.

For all its faults, though, I enjoyed reading it.  8 out of 10.

(If you don't find this book at a con, you're not likely to see it at a bookstore, though I'm pretty sure a bookstore could order it.  There should be info at


Gaelen and Nelwyn are two wood-elf scouts who find the bodies of two of other wood-elves who were killed horribly.  The signs are clear that a single creature of no known race did it, and they start a quest to track it down.  As they are tracking the creature, they meet Galador, a high elf, whose sudden appearance startles Nelwyn so that she falls into the river.  After she is rescued, Galador begs their aid, for his human companion Orogond is ill.  Elves in this world are immune to sickness and few of them know anything of healing, but Gaelen manages to nurse Orogond to health and inadvertently causes him to fall in love with her.  Relationships between elves and men are frowned upon by elves, so when Gaelen and Nelwyn are sent to Monadh-talam, the elven mountain kingdom, they conspire to sneak away, because they believe Galador will follow Nelwyn and Orogond will follow Galador and Gaelen, and they're convinced that Orogond, who has to eat and sleep, will hold them back on the journey.  But of course Galador and Orogond manage to follow them, prove their worth, and are accepted.  Crossing a dangerous mountain pass in the winter, they take refuge in a cave and are trapped by an avalanche.  They find a passage out of the cave that eventually leads to dwarven tunnels.  Orogond is a scholar who knows a little Dwarvish and manages to convince the dwarves not to kill the elves.  (Elves and dwarves harbor considerable hatred, because of a past war in one elven kingdom made war on a dwarven kingdom.)  They manage to escape the dwarven realm and arrive at Monadh-talam.  There, they add a dwarven lore-master, Fima, and two other men to their company, and learn some more lore of their enemy, who has acquired the name Gorgon.  At about this time, Gorgon goes to visit Wrothgar, the Dark Lord, who gives him a ring which will allow him to see and hear through the eyes and ears of another.  Gorgon chooses Gaelen as his victim, and completes the binding using the head of one of Gaelen's arrows that was stuck in his flesh.  The company heads to the elven island kingdom Tal-Sithian by way of Cos-Domhain, the greater dwarven kingdom, which Orogond wishes to visit to learn more of his heritage from the great dwarven smith who made the ring he wears.  But Nelwyn has a vision of disaster in the underground realm and refuses to go, so they split and only Gaelen, Orogond, Fima, and Belegund, one of the other men, go with them.  Gorgon kills Belegund and two of the local dwarves, and almost kills Gaelen but holds off, because if he kills the target of the ring it will not work again for him.  Some of the dwarves hold the company responsible but the dwarf king does not, and they continue on their quest.  They rejoin the others and arrive at Tal-Sithian, where they get more clues.  Nelwyn believes she has discovered the nature of the ring, but needs to prove it.  Some more elves are killed because of information Gaelen unwittingly provides to Gorgon, who is now leading a small company of orcsOlcas.  There is a lot of tension between Gaelen's friends and the people who believe that Gaelen is giving information to Gorgon, if unwittingly.  The company returns to their home base in the Greatwood, and Nelwyn arranges a ruse to prove that Gorgon knows what Gaelen knows.  She sneaks off with Fima to "gather some rare herbs", but since they're expecting trouble, they kill the Olcas Gorgon sent to capture them.

Now that they know the secret, Gaelen almost goes crazy, but is determined to trick Gorgon.  Orogond manages to communicate with Gaelen by touch so Gorgon won't know.  They orchestrate a plan to hold a council of the three elven realms in a conveniently undefended place, while putting together an army out of Gaelen's view to trap Gorgon's army as it tries to trap the smaller Elven force.  Gorgon has vague feelings that he's being tricked but goes through with the plan anyway.  A lot of elves die, but the Olca army is wiped out.  Gaelen and Gorgon go at it in single combat for a long time, but Gorgon is much bigger and stronger and nearly as skilled, and he ends up winning.  But rather than kill her, he puts on the ring so that he can see himself through her eyes, which proves his undoing, because how she sees him is so disturbing that she has the chance to grab Fima's axe (which she borrowed because she believed Fima was killed in the big battle, though reports of his death later proved greatly exaggerated) and chop off the hand holding the ring.  Orogond shows up about now, after nearly killing himself and his trusty horse but miraculously managing to survive running down the edge of the ravine when the path was washed out.  Somehow Gorgon is still tied into Gaelen's senses even though the hand wearing the ring is no longer attached, and Gaelen gets Orogond's maglos, some kind of magic super white phosphorus, and burns out Gorgon's vision by forcing herself to watch it.  She blinds herself, but will apparently recover, but Gorgon himself is blinded for much longer, perhaps even permanently, by the way seeing it affected his mind.  Still, Gorgon is able to hide in a cave and avoid being captured.

At the end of the book, Orogond is still waiting for Gaelen's answer to his suit.  He had admitted his love first to himself, and then to her before the big battle, but she insisted that she needed time to decide.
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