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Shadowhawk reviews Sandy Hunter’s debut novel, the young adult fantasy Elanraigh: The Vow, published by Eternal Press.
“A decent enough novel with an interesting start and a promising premise but one that takes too long to get to the end.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ll admit that I’m not much of a young adult fiction reader. If I really think about it, the only novels/series I can think of that fall into this genre and that I have read would be: Harry Potter, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, EarthSea and maybe The Famous Five. It might just be that I am far too enamoured of the more age-contemporary novels that are out there, the more adult novels shall we say? Consequently, I don’t really consider young adult fiction to be much of my type of novels these days, but, I do like to experiment with my reading, so I couldn’t really resist the opportunity when it presented itself.
The first port of call was Eternal Press and their list of titles coming out for February, one of which happened to be a debut novel with what I thought was quite a promising premise: a young girl who learns to hear and respond to the teachings of a sentient forest, and then eventually has to fight to defend her homeland against an old and dangerous enemy. Not too bad of a concept really. It is rather uncomplicated and straightforward, especially keeping the genre in mind, so I was fairly enthusiastic for it.
However, this is a novel that shows me the one extreme end of the genre which says: this genre isn’t for you. Try as I might, I don’t really like the novel all that much.
First of all, the pacing for me was all over the place. The highs were too few and far in between while the lows were too many. It also didn’t help that several times during the reading, I kept thinking “this could have been cut, and this, and maybe this too”. I was quite irritated at myself for being so analytical of the novel. Maybe that’s the part of me that is too used to the more serious fiction, like that coming from Black Library, Bantam Books, Angry Robot and the others.
Another thing is that, for me, the protagonist Thera tends to be quite analytical of her own feelings for a girl in her mid-teens. She is too inquisitive, I guess that’s the word for it. I can certainly allow some leeway considering the genre but this made her too mature for my tastes. I certainly wasn’t that way when I was sixteen. *shrug*
However, her motivations and ambitions are suitably realistic for the world she lives in and inhabits, which is the more relevant thing. As a girl on the cusp of womanhood, I think she has been fairly well-realised by the author although sometimes she appears to want to fall in love rather than just falling in love. That kind of ruins things a bit at times. Still, all in all, her rather unique teachings with regards to learning the special magic of the Elanraigh forest is interesting to watch. Certainly one of the more novel ideas I’ve come across in a long time.
This just might be all that heavy reading of the two Games Workshop settings I’ve been doing for the last few years, but the antagonists of the novel, the Memteth Raiders, didn’t really work for me. I never really got the feeling that any of the characters or even the world itself was ever in any real danger. They lacked that edge of foreboding and danger that a real, proper, scary enemy is supposed to. Especially considering the genre! I mean, I still get shivers just thinking about some of the things that Voldemort did in the Harry Potters or the enemy from LeGuin’s EarthSea novels, even Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. There is a certain allure to the bad guys in those novels that just hooks you, an allure that was quite missing from the Memteth in this novel.
The various other factions portrayed in the novel, Thera’s own people of Allenhome, the Ttamarini barbarians and the Cythians were all interesting to a lesser or greater degree. Once again I think it is the limitations of the genre and perhaps even my own mainstream reading preferences setting in because it was fairly difficult for me to really connect with either of them. If I had to rank them according to the author’s exploration of their culture, I’d say the order would be: Allenhome, Ttamarini and the Cythians. The latter especially got the least coverage and appeared to be there for the sake of it. The people of Allenhome were portrayed quite well and the Ttamarini came quite close too. It was just that I didn’t get the feel that either of them had much of a nuance and subtlety though.
It was all very up-front and, regrettably, simplistic. At least for my tastes.
Some of my favourite characters in the novel would have to be Thera’s father Leon ArNarone, who is the ruler of Allenhome, and the leader of the Ttamarini, Teckcharin. Top mention would also go to Sirra Alaine, the warrior woman who leads the guards of Elankeep (the traditional residence of magic users like Thera within the Elanraigh forest). Overall, they were the most entertaining characters in the novel and certainly the most enjoyable to read about.
The action scenes, of which there are a fair few, were again far too simplistic for me. That’s not to say that I’m spoiled by actions in the more typical adult fiction I read, but that they were just cases of X beating Y with little in between. The first action scene in fact happens almost entirely off-screen, and considering how long it takes to get to that point, the whole experience was disappointing. To say the least. One of the later action scenes, a naval action scene at that, was actually the best one and came close to redeeming all the others, but didn’t make it that far honestly. Which is a shame. It is actually quite a well-written scene.
And that’s really all that I got. Like I said before, Elanraigh: The Vow, is quite the decent novel but it just isn’t my cup of tea. Its a little too fanciful for my tastes and lacks that alluring edge that I prefer in my reading. That said, I do recommend the novel because it does happen to be quite the interesting read. If I was still a mid-teenager, I would be reading these type of novels quite frequently, although even then Warhammer and Dune and Harry Potter and Star Wars held sway over me.
So, I rate the novel at a comfortable 7/10.