An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

An Apprentice to Elves is a beautifully written story that takes us to the land of the North – a harsh place to survive not only because of the fearsome winters but also because of attacks from invaders and trolls.  The latest threat posed is from the Rheans – a relentless invader with endless resources and ruthless determination.  This is book No.3 of the Iskryne Trilogy.  My original review appears over at The Speculative Herald and this is a condensed version.  I haven’t read the first two books but feel this reads well as a standalone.  I would also mention that not having read the previous books this may include spoilers.

At the start we are introduced to Alfgyfa who has been sent by her father to become an apprentice to a Mastersmith of the Alfar named Tin.  I think both Tin and Alfgyfa’s father have a vision for a more peaceful understanding and Alfgyfa’s apprenticeship is a gesture in that direction..

The story is based in an imaginary world that draws on Norse myth and Roman history  We have men, elves and wolves. The Trellwolves are enormous, intelligent beasts with the ability to share a telepathic link with certain men (the men who form such bonds are then known as wolfcarls).  We have the race of elves, two groups, the svartalfar and the aettrynalfar who share an old enmity towards each other.  We also have the Rheans, who bear a strong resemblance to the Romans. The Rheans would ‘supposedly’ come in peace to trade.  In truth they would then exercise such control over the people they conquer until the dominated race became indistinguishable from the Rheans themselves.  Understandably, the men of the North are not too keen to bend their knee and pay tribute or to lose their own sense of identity.

In terms of story there is the threat of war and the steps needed by the men of the North to prevent defeat and we also follow in the footsteps of Alfgyfa and watch her development.  Alfgyfa is headstrong.  She longs for the bond with a wolf that the men from her home enjoy.  Such a bond is forbidden to females but Alfgyfa is determined to follow her own heart, even if this leads to problems along the way.

If you’re expecting a fast paced story with battles and swordplay then you could be in for a surprise as this isn’t what you’ll find here.  This story is rich in detail and slowly builds up the personalities of all the main characters, including the wolves, and sets the scene of their daily lives.  I enjoyed the attention to detail, it paints a vivid picture which I found fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the information about the wolves and their behaviour which made me want to laugh out loud. As I said, this probably isn’t for everyone as it is definitely a slow burner but I enjoyed the finer detail.

In terms of characters.  Alfgyfa wasn’t my favourite – odd as she is the main character – and I did have a degree of sympathy for her situation.  Having lived almost half her life in one home and half in another – and never having been truly accepted in the latter – she’s now like a fish out of water belonging to neither place.  I liked that she decided her own path and stood by her actions and also that she was determined to help her people survive.  My favourites, however, were Tin, a matriarch and master of the Alfa. Patient and intelligent and able to look at the bigger picture.  I liked her sense of right and wrong and that she was determined to help Alfgyfa choose the best path..  The other character that stood out for me was Otter, a former Rhean slave, she makes a really intriguing addition to the overall dynamic.

Criticisms?  Considering the detail displayed throughout the book the ending felt a little rushed and maybe too easily sewn up.  Also, some of the names are, at first, difficult to read and stop you in your tracks and I have no doubt I was reading them wrong in my head.

Otherwise, I enjoyed this.  It’s a very detailed exploration of an unusual world full of strange creatures told by a young woman who is determined to prove herself.

Also, I simply have to raise the matter of the beautiful cover.  Just look at it.

I received a copy courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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9 Responses to “An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear”

  1. avasterlingauthor

    Sounds like an interesting book.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I loved the details about everyday life – it sort of made it fascinating.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I was glad to hear this could be read as a stand alone.because when I almost took it off my list when I learned it was a third of a series. That would have been a shame, because “Norse myth and Roman history” sounds so enticing. I’m hoping I’ll be able to fit this one in at the end of the month!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I know! I was kicking myself when I saw it was the 3rd but it actually is perfectly understandable. It’s a very detailed exploration of the life, definitely not a quick read or really plot focused – although there is a war brewing. I enjoyed the attention to detail though and some of the elements, such as the trolls and the wolves were a really fascinating take plus it’s lovely writing.
      Lynn 😀

  3. jessicabookworm

    I agree it is a beautiful cover 🙂

  4. Leona

    I saw this pop up in my WordPress feed but the ‘Elf’ word turns me off cause I hate Tolkien rip-off stuff. How wrong I was, this sounds like the Norse myth elves not Tolkien elves, plus there’s the Roman element in it. so I’m sold! I will give it a try definitely (when I get my chaotic TBR under some kind of control)

    Thanks for this nice, detailed, informative review Lynn!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Oh, I hope you like it – yeah, these are definitely not like Tolkien rip off elves – they live underground and seem to have elongated arms and a bit of a stoop – plus they speak in this sing song cadence – very unusual, not read anything like them before.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Fresh October brings the pheasant, then to gather nuts is pleasant. | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear […]

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