Book Review : Elvenbane

Book Review : ElvenbaneThe Elvenbane (Halfblood Chronicles, #1) by Andre Norton, Mercedes Lackey
Published by Tor Books on April 15th 1993
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 566
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Two masters of epic fantasy have combined in this brilliant collaboration to create a rousing tale of the sort that becomes an instant favorite. This is the story of Shana, a halfbreed born of the forbidden union of an Elvenlord father and a human mother. Her exiled mother dead, she was rescued and raised by dragons, a proud, ancient race who existed unbeknownst to elven or humankind. From birth, Shana was the embodiment of the Prophecy that the all-powerful Elvenlords feared. Her destiny is the enthralling adventure of a lifetime.

I’m going to be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with Mercedes Lackey’s work. I usually end up loving her fantasy series, but I struggle so much with all of her endless description! And Elvenbane was certainly no exception to this rule, even though it was written with another esteemed author, Andre Norton. Unfortunately, that same never-ending description, along with other writing choices, as well as the heavier content of human trafficking and slavery, had me struggling to make any progress through the novel. However, I did end up enjoying some parts of Elvenbane and would not be completely opposed to reading other installments.


Despite not really enjoying the book until after I hit the Chapter 5 mark (that’s 108 pages in, in case you were wondering), it suddenly got a lot more tolerable. Main character Shana is raised by “The Kin” or dragons! I’m sure you can tell that this was my favorite part of the entire book. Shana has a foster-mother dragon named Alara, who is a shaman, a foster-brother dragon named Keman, and a hateful foster-sister named Myre. Shana learns the hard way that she is not actually a dragon stuck in two-legger form, and is eventually kicked out of the lair to live among her own kind (and when I say kicked out, I mean she’s dumped in the middle of the desert with no food or water). But the Kin fail to warn her that not only is all of human kind enslaved to elves—complete with breeding programs, concubines, and gladiators—but also that she’s actually a Halfblood, a powerful and illegal mix between humans and elves that comes with dangerous “wizard powers.”


If there’s one thing the lords are united on, it’s that halfbloods need to be destroyed on sight.”


But before we learn all of this, strangely enough, the authors decide to describe Shana’s mother’s (a well-respected human concubine of a powerful elf named Lord Dryan), fall from grace. Sabotaged by a rival in her lord’s harem, Serina is not given her mandatory contraceptives to prevent producing half blood offspring. She falls pregnant and has to flee before both she and her child are killed. I really couldn’t stand any of this part of the book—not just because the slavery is upsetting, but also because Serina is very much a product of her environment, aka she is shallow and awful—and frankly, at the time of reading it, I was very confused about who the heck Serina was and what she had to do with the characters on the blurb of the back of the book. I was also not thrilled that we spent literally five chapters hearing about some shallow side character who just View Spoiler ».


The future that awaited this [elf] girl was as bleak as a slave’s. A loveless mating to someone who valued her only for her potential power, the dower she brought from her father, the alliance she represented, and the heirs she might breed. A life spent in the confines of the ‘bower,’ the woman’s quarters, with nothing of any importance to do.”


Thankfully, Shana is nothing like her mother. She is able to sympathize with everyone she meets, regardless of their species. Though she is young and naïve from growing up ostracized from the rest of man and elvenkind, she is brave, determined, and sticks to her guns. She also never believes anything anyone says at face value and researches things for herself. I admired her strength of character a lot, despite it being a little over the top. I also really liked her foster-brother Keman, who was very devoted to Shana, and also a black sheep of the Kin. I loved his depiction as a dragon who tends to and cares for other animals and how that translated into raising and protecting his foster sister. I adored every bit of what these two accomplished together and for me, their bond was the highlight of the novel, as was the interesting depiction of dragons as shapeshifters from another planet. 


Unlike this interesting and unique portrayal of dragons, the magic system itself wasn’t really anything special. Some humans have their own innate version of magic, allowing them to do various kinds of “mind-magic,” despite the elves’ attempts to breed it out of them. Elves, on the other hand, have more powerful magics such as shape-shifting, transformation, glamories, etc.. And halfbloods, or the children of Elves and humans, have both types of magic, rendering them wizards. And that’s literally all there is to it. Shana, a Halfblood, can use telekinesis, speak telepathically, plant thoughts into others’ minds, see across great distances through mediation on a jewel, and some other things. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the magic system, nor was I awed by the powers of a Halfblood, but the authors did at least believably develop their entire world around it. 


“Shana, I hope you’re keeping this to yourself. I probably shouldn’t say this, but there are those among the senior wizards who are–ah–disturbed you. I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that you have a great deal of power….Some of my colleagues are afraid of that power. Some of them are suspicious of you….”


Elvenbane takes place over sixteen years, with very odd, jarring jumps in the narrative, which didn’t really help me to enjoy my reading experience. Throughout this time, readers learn more and more about how the wizards/Halfbloods almost overthrew the elves that were enslaving the human race in a previous gigantic war. As Shana reaches the hideout of the remaining wizards, known as the Citadel, she is initially faced with opposition due to her strong powers and beliefs that they should actively be fighting back against the elves and doing more to save humans and Halfbloods. But weirdly enough, that opposition just goes away? And then she very easily unites the entire Citadel against the Elves, and in the blink of the eye, the war happens and is over? 


Honestly ¾ of Elvenbane led up to this great battle, which I honestly didn’t think would even happen until the future installments of the series, only for it to be over in probably less than ¼. I felt very letdown by this less than epic showdown. It also didn’t help matters that the elves weren’t really fighting themselves and just sent slaves and disturbingly enough, slave children to act as meat shields, to storm the Citadel. It’s strange how such a dark book doesn’t spend more time with the war it was leading up to.


It goes without saying that, Elvenbane suffers from severe pacing issues. It was a constant battle between the endless descriptions and then the extremely random time skips. Just when I got invested in something in the story, which did not happen as often as I would have liked, it jumped ahead weeks or years later. One would think this sort of time skip would not happen at a pivotal moment in the book, but it did, and it was very frustrating. Other narrative choices are often infuriating as well. For instance, in one section Shana learns she can see the rainbow colored aura of a dragon with her magic, so if the bully dragon that torments her and her foster-brother is hiding or in another shapeshifted form, she will be able to see him anyways and to protect herself. But does she ever actually use this power? No! It goes absolutely nowhere!


What’s worse is that the whole eponymous Elvenbane thing that I thought I would be reading, wasn’t even a serious thing. View Spoiler » It sent the message that “hey, your heroine is special, but not really, and who cares anyways” and it was just a very odd narrative choice. I wish I could read the book that was described in the synopsis, but sadly, this wasn’t it. To be quite honest, the fact that the blurb says absolutely nothing about human trafficking, slavery, or anything is quite shocking to me.  


I honestly could not believe the harsh realities this fantasy novel represented. It does a realistic job presenting some of the horrors of slavery—complete with slave collars, auctions, leashes, and more—but it was all a bit much for me. I hated that Shana was taken from the desert, drugged, beaten, questioned, and bound while anyone that defended her was beaten and slowly killed. I felt palpable relief that she wasn’t raped because I was very scared that it was inevitable. And if that weren’t enough, it was discouraging seeing the heroine regarded as no more than an animal by all other species around her. I particularly didn’t like that even most of the dragons viewed Shana in that manner because I generally like to read them as higher and wise beings.


I’d like to at least think Shana will prove them all wrong with her title as Elvenbane, but I am not so certain that will ever come to pass. Honestly, if Elvenbane were a Youtube video, I’d say I got click baited by the description. If you fantasy novels with darker content, you might like this novel, but as the time skips are jarring and the pacing poor, I’m not sure it’s worth the read. Those that are triggered by violence, slavery, murder, human trafficking, or those that simply love to escape to happier places in their reads should definitely steer clear of Elvenbane.


Book Review : Elvenbane - Blogging with Dragons

Posted June 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

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