Book Review : A Deal with the Elf King

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review : A Deal with the Elf KingA Deal with the Elf King (Married to Magic, #1) by Elise Kova
Published by Silver Wing Press on November 6th 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Romance
Pages: 338
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Perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Uprooted, this stand-alone, fantasy romance about a human girl and her marriage to the Elf King is impossible to put down!
The elves come for two things: war and wives. In both cases, they come for death.
Three-thousand years ago, humans were hunted by powerful races with wild magic until the treaty was formed. Now, for centuries, the elves have taken a young woman from Luella's village to be their Human Queen.
To be chosen is seen as a mark of death by the townsfolk. A mark nineteen-year-old Luella is grateful to have escaped as a girl. Instead, she's dedicated her life to studying herbology and becoming the town's only healer.
That is, until the Elf King unexpectedly arrives... for her.
Everything Luella had thought she'd known about her life, and herself, was a lie. Taken to a land filled with wild magic, Luella is forced to be the new queen to a cold yet blisteringly handsome Elf King. Once there, she learns about a dying world that only she can save.
The magical land of Midscape pulls on one corner of her heart, her home and people tug on another... but what will truly break her is a passion she never wanted.
A Deal with the Elf King is a complete, stand-alone novel, inspired by the tales of Hades and Persephone, as well as Beauty and the Beast, with a "happily ever after" ending. It's perfect for fantasy romance fans looking for just the right amount of steam and their next slow-burn and swoon-worthy couple.

When I read that A Deal with the Elf King was a romantasy based on Hades and Persephone and Beauty and the Beast, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. Plus, I really enjoyed author Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom. I was certainly pleased by the concept of the story and by main character, Luella. Though I did have a lot of fun reading A Deal with the Elf King,  I found that the romance was sadly lacking, the pacing of the book wasn’t the best, and that the plot wasn’t the most believable. 


Since the treaty between the elves and humans was signed three millennia ago, there has been a Human Queen selected from Capton every hundred years like clockwork. Finding her was never hard; she’s the only human with magic, after all. But this time, not one young woman of Capton has mended something with a thought, or made plants grow from barren earth, or had animals swear their allegiance to her.


A Deal with the Elf King is narrated by main character Luella, the sole healer in the small town of Capton. In her town, it’s common knowledge that every 100 hundred years, the king of the elf world will come to her town to find a Human Queen. This queen is then doomed to leave all she knows and to travel to the realm of the elves in marriage with the Elf King. None of the other villagers know exactly what befalls the Human Queen, so the arrival of the elves and their king is feared. To Luella’s horror, the Elf King spots her doing healing magic, something she was completely unaware she was able to do, and she is married to him before you utter the words “shotgun wedding.” 


What I like most about Luella is that she agrees to honor the treaty between the elves and the human race without a thought for herself. Luella handles her new position with sass and determination, which made me like her even more. Plus, Luella thinks on her feet, and thinks mostly of others. She is not really scared for herself, but for leaving her villagers without their only healer. 


When she enters the dying realm of the elves, known as Midscape, she learns that her magic  is the only thing that can bring the elves’ world, which sits close to the Beyond, back to life. Like Persephone, she can return to the human realm once a year to recharge, but then she must return to the land of the elves, lest she perish from being without the magic of their world. I really loved this idea! Even more so, the idea that the elves sacrificed their immortality to create order to the afterlife was pretty interesting. It was even better that a Human Queen was required to bridge the gap to the natural world and bring life back to Midscape, as it is closer to life than death.  Though I must admit to being a little thrown by the depiction of un-immortal and selfless elves, period, but especially because they aren’t very welcoming to Luella.


“They say that the Veil that separates us from the Beyond was made by the first Elf King to give order to the living and the dead. In doing so, he severed the elves from the immortality they were given by the first gods. For this, other races bent the knee to the elves. They honored the sacrifice of all the elves to give the final rest to everyone and proclaimed the Elf King the king of kings—ruler of all mortals.”


Perhaps least welcoming is The Elf King himself, Eldas, who is the typical broody, reserved, and haughty king. Though A Deal with the Elf King tries to make him sympathetic by stating how isolated he was as the heir to the throne, I never really liked him or saw why Luella suddenly grew feelings for him. Eldas does not do much to help Luella to figure out her new life in the world of elves and she quickly learns that being the Human Queen does not earn her much respect:


I thought, foolishly, that it came with some amount of respect or even reverence. No. They don’t care. I’m just a tool to them to make their flowers bloom and fields fertile. I’m a walking bag of manure in their eyes.


Of course, over time, Eldas and Luella warm to each other. In fact, it was much too little time for me. The two went from arguing constantly, Eldas controlling her with magic, and being unable to tolerate one another’s presence to getting drunk at dinner and making out. I was never able to really feel the tension or chemistry between the two, so I was disappointed at how quickly they went from enemies to lovers. I felt Luella got over her distrust of men too quickly–she easily forgets how her male best friend and love interest in the human world lied to her entire life and betrayed her at the very beginning of the novel. One would think that would leave some bigger trauma, and make it much harder to forgive her new husband, Eldas, for using magic on her multiple times without her consent. Instead, the novel glosses these magical manipulations over and Luella seemingly conveniently forgets they ever happened simply because her husband is attractive. 


“I have a right to know your true name.” 

“You have a right to nothing of mine that isn’t freely given.” 


One would think it would be much harder to get over your husband taking away your free will and playing with you like a marionette, but Luella moves past it without too much trouble. I, on the other hand, found that pretty problematic and hard to forget. Call me crazy, but my idea of true love includes free will, trust, and basic human respect. And though the novel originally has Luella state how important choice is to her, her actions of falling in love with Eldas, who feels more like a villain than an elf prince charming, definitely undermine that at every turn and make her appear wishy-washy and silly. It’s hard to root for a romance that feels much more like Stockholm Syndrome than anything else.


I hate to specifically compare to other novels, but in the case of A Deal with the Elf King, I’ll make an exception as it is is marketed towards fans of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses. Unfortunately, A Deal with the Elf King fails to realize that the male love interest in Maas’s beloved series, Rhysand, who is the most powerful fae ruler in centuries, never uses his power to hurt or to otherwise control his love interest, Feyre. He only uses his power to protect her, something that is in stark contrast to her previous love interests. I wish A Deal with the Elf King had demonstrated Eldas’s immense power on others and never on Luella, so I could actually enjoy their romance, instead of finding that it actually made me think less of the heroine.


And their romance also felt like it moved so fast because so little else happened in the story. Most of A Deal with the Elf King follows Luella studying plants and reading the journals of past Human Queens in an attempt to end the cycle of a Human Queen being needed at all to keep the elf realm alive. Sadly, it was pretty anticlimactic. Sure, the story is broken up with Luella getting kidnapped once or twice, finding a magic wolf, and a single battle, but that’s really it. I’m afraid I just didn’t see The Beauty and the Beast connection, because though Belle may have been trapped in a castle with the beast, exciting things actually happened in that story and the Beast wasn’t quite so abusive. Plus, there were other characters in Belle’s castle that weren’t as flat as the elves in the palace in A Deal with the Elf King.


And though I quite liked the Persephone/Hades aspect of the novel and the world-building, I found myself a little confused by the whole “ending the cycle” plot point. There is such an uneasy truce between elves, the other magical races, and humans, but A Deal with the Elf King doesn’t really account for the unrest that one could rationally assume would occur after a centuries long peace agreement ceases. Luella and Eldas make no plans for how the peace will be kept if they truly find a way to break the cycle of the Elf King taking a Human Queen. What’s more the novel doesn’t answer if the marriage from a human and an elf will continue as a means to keep peace, or anything else remotely logical like royal planning sessions. It was a little hard to suspend my disbelief that a King and Queen took none of these things into consideration. Surely some of the ample diary reading time could have been devoted to the state of affairs for the rest of the world?


Even harder for me to understand was everything revolving around the secret to breaking the cycle in the first place. Why was this secret kept hidden in the misplaced diary of the Human Queen who helped set up the said cycle in the first place? If she knew that there were going to be issues with the cycle of needing a Human Queen to keep the realm of Midscape alive, why was it set up in the first place and why wasn’t this secret passed down through the Elven royal family or among the Human Queens at the very least? I was frustrated that readers are never told if there were great wars happening between elves and humans and that was why this bold plan was needed to force a treaty to stop the deaths or anything else that would make this place remotely necessary. I just find it hard to believe that the elves would just give up their immortality out of the kindness of their hearts for the good of lesser races like the human and the fae. And as we know from the elves’ treatment of Luella, they do in fact, see the other races as lesser. I just think that the novel should have spent more time fleshing out this past history to make it’s paltry world-building more believable. 


“So maybe that’s why none of those other queens dared to question if there was a way out. They didn’t have any expectations to be anything other than what they were because they were identified as queens young enough that being the queen was their dream. But I’m not them. I am questioning for myself and every other young woman who comes after me.”


Plus, I really don’t understand how this fail safe was just laying around in a diary with instructions, and everyone just forgot about it! A Deal with the Elf King insinuates that the other Human Queens just never even considered breaking the cycle because they trained for the position their whole lives. How is that even credible? You’re telling me that young women, stolen from their entire lives and used as a magical battery to restore life to an entire world in an extremely painful process and sold into a loveless marriage to a different species that could control them with magic at will, never wanted out? Suuureee…..


Though I really loved the incredible concept of the A Deal with the Elf King, with it’s Persephone/Hades inspiration, I found its execution sorely lacking. I felt like I had too many questions about the world-building and the cycle of the Human Queen for comfort. And what was worse, I couldn’t in good conscience fully support the romance of the story, which was the whole reason I wanted to read the novel in the first place. 


Posted January 4, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Romance

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2 responses to “Book Review : A Deal with the Elf King

  1. Daniel

    May I suggest changing the background color of your block quotes. According to WebAIM’s Contrast Checker, the color combination of white on florescent green fails at being legible to people with disabilities and color blindness. It is also a pain in the butt for those without those issues to read.

    • Hi, thank you so much for your comment! This is a change I have been considering, so I appreciate your input.
      In the meantime, there is accessibility feature on my blog (you can click the icon in the left) to help change colors and sizes.

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