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Review: An Apprentice to Elves

By / October 24, 2015 / no comments

I had not heard of this series prior to receiving “An Apprentice to Elves,” but this book stands on its own.  Our title character is Alfgyfa, a young girl who has been sent to live with the svartalfar (basically dark elves).  The svartalfar are excellent craftspeople and Alfgyfa is apprenticed to a metalsmith named Tin (most of the svartalfar have names of metals or minerals).  In one sense, this novel is the story of Alfgyfa coming of age.

This book has quite a lot of description, so be prepared for that.  The description goes a long way towards setting the mood and detailing the world, and this is really one of those novels where you are reading more for immersion in a fantasy world (as opposed to action, although there is some action).  I don’t often have patience for those sorts of books, but I think it works here.  Alfgyfa is a good character to be the focal point of these descriptive scenes — she is an impressionable child when she leaves to live among the svartalfar and so we are learning things as she is learning them.  And when she travels to see her own people after many years among the elves, she is seeing things in a new light, as well.

elvesAn Apprentice to Elves” has a couple of deeper themes, as well, gender and culture (and the intersection between the two) being primary among them.  I don’t want to spoil anything but Fargrimr’s situation is interesting and unexpected, as are different characters’ reactions upon meeting him for the first time.  I think those reactions really lend an air of authenticity to the book and speak to the depth of worldbuilding.

As you may have noticed, the milieu is Norse,.  I’m at least somewhat familiar with elements of Norse mythology (though much of my recent exposure comes from the Iron Druid books…) and I think that helped, though I did have quite a bit of trouble remembering names, especially among the humans.  It didn’t help that people seemed to take different names at different stages of their lives.  And I was a third of the way through the book before I could properly parse “Alfgyfa,” even.  I have no doubt the names are authentic for the setting.  Just be forewarned that some extra effort may be involved here.

The Northmen (humans, including Alfgyfa’s relatives) are facing invasion from a southern force known as the Rheans who are pretty obviously modeled on the ancient Romans, right down to the sandals on their feet during battle.  So the book takes a bit of a turn about halfway through and stops being quite so much about Alfgyfa and starts being more about the war, though the personal story isn’t lost.

Other characters also get some POV time.  Otter is a woman who was once a Rhean slave.  She hates the Rheans with a passion and she has found her way to the community of humans Alfgyfa originally hails from.  Events in and around this community, especially when Alfgyfa is absent, are told from Otter’s perspective.  We read a fair amount about cooking and winter preparations with her, but there is a little drama in her sections, too.

And we have a few scenes from Tin’s perspective.  Although the customs of the svartalfar are different from human customs, Tin’s thoughts and actions are not particularly foreign.  We can understand her motivation.  Tin probably changes least of all the POV characters, but she is also the oldest POV character (as in other fantasy novels, elves of any kind often have much longer lifespans than other races).  Tin is sympathetic, but of the three POV characters I’ve discussed, she’s probably the least developed.

Pace-wise, the beginning is slow, although there’s much more of a sense of urgency towards the end of the book as the war effort becomes desperate.

I think the strength of this book is the worldbuilding, really.  It’s complex and blends real-world mythology with some more fanciful elements in a seamless way (well, seamless if you don’t know much history, which I really don’t).  The plot is somewhat conventional (coming-of-age and war to repel the invaders from the homeland sorts of stories, meshed together).  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just kind of easy to predict the ending.  The ride is still worth it if you want to read to experience an alternate world.


Electronic ARC provided by the publisher.
A giveaway for North American residents is on our Facebook and Twitter Pages thanks to Tor.com

Giveaway closes 25th October 2015 at 11.59pm PST.

About the author

Jon Snow

Believe it or not, Jon Snow really got into reading only after reading A Game of Thrones back in 2002. Previously the only fantasy he had read were Lord of the Rings and many Magic: The Gathering books.While juggling teaching life, he tries to keep up with recently published books.


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