Saturday, September 2, 2023

Elfland by Freda Warrington


ELFLAND is like a cross between Sidney Sheldon's MASTER OF THE GAME, Liz Berry's CHINA GARDEN, and Holly Black's THE CRUEL PRINCE. Which doesn't sound like it should work... but it does. I've had this book sitting on my Kindle for years because the page length intimidated me. On Goodreads, it says it's only 400-something pages. That must be for the hardcover or else completely incorrect, because my ebook edition was almost 700 pages long.

But I picked up the book and was immediately sucked in from the first chapter. The story is set in a British town called Cloudcroft which is adjacent to gates that open up into the land of faerie. Except here, faeries are called Aetherials. The ones who live on the other side of the gates are called Aelyr, where the land is divided according to each of the four elements (plus spirit), and they're ruled over by a Spiral Court. On earth, which they call Vaeth, Aetherials are called Vaethyr. But they have a number of pagan celebrations that involve the gatekeeper opening the gates, so they can replenishing their powers in their homeland and keep their spirit strong.

Which sounds all well and good, until one day the gatekeeper, Lawrence, is just like, "I'm not opening the gates anymore, SORRY" right in the middle of one of their parties. Because it's DANGEROUS. Which nearly starts a riot, but when he calls their bluff and says, "Ok, I'll open the gates one last time and you can go inside but then I'm LOCKING YOU IN THERE" they all back down real quick.

We're quickly introduced to the rest of the characters. Lawrence has a human wife named Sapphire, who is obsessed with Aetherials for reasons that may or may not be sinister. Before Sapphire, he had an Aetherial wife named Ginny, who disappeared. With Ginny, he had two sons: Sam and Jon. Sam is the token bad boy, icy and sneering and dismissive. Jon is a long-haired dreamy poet. Both of them are beautiful and neither of them are really what they appear. On the other side of the road, there's another rich Aetherial family, which is headed by Auberon, who's friends with Lawrence. He has a wife named Jessica, and three children: Matthew, the eldest and the bossiest; and then Lucas and Rosie (who I think are close to the same age). The focus of this story is more on the children of these two families, and how they grow up denied access to their faerie heritage... and what happens when tragedy strikes.

This really is a lot like a fantasy version of MASTER OF THE GAME. That book was about a family who got rich from South African diamond mines. This book even has a stone mine, too. Lawrence became super rich from mining a stone from the other world called albinite, which changes colors when in the presence of magic, and otherwise looks like white ice. The focus of the story is less on magic than it is on the way these characters interact with each other and create drama. If you like soap operas, you'll love this book-- HOWEVER, it does have a ton of triggers for everything from incest to grooming to animal murder (mostly off-page/referenced to) to spousal abuse.

I loved this book because it was so different and unique. I loved how it married Norse and Celtic legends, and how the author did so in a completely original way. Holly Black really popularized that, I think, with the success of her Folk of the Air trilogy, but ELFLAND shows how it's possible to borrow from the same pool of mythology and not seem derivative at all (I know ELFLAND came out before CRUEL PRINCE did, but my point is that even though they use the same blend of mythology, they feel very different). The idea of different realms hovering over ours in layers was chilling, especially the Dusklands and the demon realm, Dummanios, I also loved that the core romance in this book is a near-endless will they/won't they that reads like Dramione fanfiction. I'm sorry, but I am a sucker for the icy bad boy love interest and I will 100% unapologetically stan that toxic shit every time.

I might have bought every book in her Aetherial and her Jewelfire series just from reading this book. So that ought to tell you something about this author and how good she is.

P.S. Almost every character in this book is pretty awful, so if you don't like unlikable heroines or people behaving like utter trash to one another, you will not like this. I, for one, was vastly entertained.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

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