Book Review : How to Love Your Elf

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : How to Love Your ElfHow to Love Your Elf (Embraced by Magic #1) by Kerrelyn Sparks
on February 25th 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
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Source: NetGalley

Raised in isolation on the magic-shrouded Isle of the Moon, five girls became five sisters. Now women, they are ready to claim their places in the world—and perhaps change it forever . . .

Sorcha knew the mission was dangerous. Leaving the safe grounds of her brother’s kingdom and parlaying with the elves across their border . . . well, treachery seemed at least as likely as true peace. But to support her sister, Sorcha would brave far more than the underhanded ways of the elves. Or so she thought, before she was taken hostage.
Of course, her captors didn’t count on her particular abilities—or on the help of the Woodsman, the mysterious thief who made his home in the forest. He saw the battle from the trees, saw the soldier attacking against incredible odds to save a comrade—and then saw the valiant fighter revealed as Princess Sorcha of Norveshka. He can’t tell if he wants to kidnap her or kiss her. But despite Sorcha’s stubbornness, his inconvenient honor, and a rebellion on the cusp of full war, something burns between them that neither can let go . . .

As someone who really enjoyed reading the other entries of the Embraced/Embraced by Magic series, I was shocked by how little I cared for its latest entry, How to Love Your Elf. Though I looked forward to the follow up to Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon, as it would star the fourth Embraced sister, Sorcha, I was dismayed by how unlikable I found her. I also did not enjoy her love interest, the Woodsman, or their attempts at banter and romance. What kept me reading How To Love Your Elf was my interest in the Embraced prophecy and the role the five sisters will play in bringing peace to their world. 


I was super excited to read How to Love Your Elf due to its main character, Sorcha. Sorcha is the most fiery of the Embraced sisters–quite literally due to her ability to summon flames at her fingertips. From the glimpses I had seen of her in the other novels, I also enjoyed her quick temper. Sadly my expectations of Sorcha being a badass proved false. The character lacked confidence in literally everything she did, was afraid to use her magical flame powers off an on, and couldn’t even manage to properly disarm a man. In fact, she failed so hard at disarming that her only method of self-defense was to go for the genitals in order to protect herself, which led to some pretty icky banter. Surely I am not the only person who does not find the threat of violence to the genitals as flirtatious and romantic?


‘I know how to protect myself.’

‘Are you planning to knee them?’ His smile widened. ‘At least my groin will be safe now.’

‘Ha! Who says I’m done with your groin?’

He tilted his head. ‘So you have plans?’

‘No! I–‘ Dear goddesses, what was she saying.”


I was disappointed to discover that much of Sorcha’s tough behavior was a facade to hide how afraid she was to lose her loved ones. In fact, nothing scares her more than actually losing a loved one or falling in love and losing that person. While that seems like a reasonable anxiety, How To Love Your Elf presents this anxiety as Sorcha being afraid to love anyone because she simply loves too much and even makes herself physically ill over it. This is problematic in itself because it automatically makes her love interest appear like he’s taking advantage of a naive, impressionable woman who is certainly not ready for any kind of romantic relationship.


“When she loved, she loved too desperately. She loved without reason. She couldn’t be practical like Luciana, trusting like Brigitta, or clever like Gwennore. When her loved ones were in danger, she was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. Love didn’t make her strong as it did her sisters.”


Instead of growing on her own as a person and as heir to her adopted sister’s throne, (something she’s really having trouble with), Sorcha falls in love with much more confident man with a mysterious background View Spoiler ». When she is kidnapped by the Woodwyn elves to ransom her in exchange her for her sister Queen Gwennore of Novreshki, she is rescued by a mysterious Robin-hood type referred to as the Woodsman. At first sight, he falls in love/lust with her and Sorcha, of course, is unable to resist his questionable charms. She wonders if he is “The One” for her as predicted by her sister’s Telling Stones, almost immediately, but laments that he does not have the hair color the stones predicted and therefore cannot possibly be her true love. Seriously? I could not believe hair color was an actual supposed conflict.


And if Sorcha’s maturity levels were lacking, the Woodsman’s general personality was too. In many romance novels, the male hero often straddles the line between being a healthy protector and supporter of his love interest and toxic masculinity. In How to Love Your Elf, the Woodsman is definitely the latter–possessive, controling, and always in need of a plan. All of this makes it hard to root for his quickly developing romance with someone who seems so desperately young and out of her league.


Whenever he married he would make sure his future wife and children knew who was in command. Sorcha’s words from earlier that afternoon flitted through his mind: Are ye going to make all the decisions without consulting me? Who put you in charge?”


As if their personalities–Socha’s insecurity in herself and fear of love and the Woodsman’s controlling confidence–don’t make it hard enough to support the romance, How to Love Your Elf struggles to present any dialogue or love scenes that didn’t make me cringe. Even the other characters protest to their romance and point out that they had only known each other for a literal week when View Spoiler », which goes to show just how little interaction and development takes place between the two. What’s more is How to Love Your Elf tries and fails to set Sorcha and the Woodsman up as star-crossed lovers due to their opposite Embraced powers and Sorcha’s prejudices against all Elves that aren’t her adopted sister Gwennore.


She was completely wrong for him. Even her gift was an utter disaster. While his Embraced power relied on wood, her power destroyed wood.”


But really, their conflicting Embraced powers was the least of their problems. Due to Sorcha’s innocence, the characters’ instalove, and their very little interaction. I could barely stomach their love scenes, and actually skimmed to get through them as quickly as possible. And the brief hurdles to their blossoming love is dealt with almost as quickly as the protests to their View Spoiler » Any obstacles the romance encounters feels contrived and not like an actual problem–either because they are simply silly problems, such as relating to the Woodsman’s hair color, or because they are dealt with and wrapped up so easily. There’s never any leftover feelings of animosity or similar emotions, because How To Love Your Elf tells us exactly what every empty-headed main character is feeling.  And what’s worse is that when the novel actually tries to flesh out characters it is in what is always snippets of pure, unnecessarily melodramatic flares of emotion, such as screaming, or collapsing to the ground. 


“‘Colwyn, my love!’ Tara clasped her hands together as she gave him an adoring look.

 He glanced over at her at her. ‘Who is that?’ 

Tara huffed, “You don’t know me? If it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have been able to kill those soldiers over there!’ She pointed at the men who had fallen from the bridge. ‘I can take care of myself, so who needs you!’ She flipped her hair over her shoulder as she turned and stalked away.’”


Despite these soap-opera-esque scenes, How to Love Your Elf does a fairly good job of world-building. There is some Elven and Embraced lore presented, but it’s mainly in a bit of an information dump that might leave readers new to the series confused. Returning readers, however, are already familiar with these ideas and will enjoy the continued threat of the Circle of Five and the Chameleon, an Embraced who can turn into literally anything or anyone at will, and an interesting twist that the novel presents. This twist, as well as my continued investment in the prophecy of the five Embraced sisters and their bringing peace to their world, is what kept me reading through the disappointing character development and less than ideal dialogue. 


I also enjoyed reading about the Wood Elves and their relationship with the trees in Woodwyn. Though it mostly read like a plot device to carry messages to Sorcha’s sister Gwennore, who can also speak to trees, it was fun to see this plot continued and explained from Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon. 


“The elves have a special relationship with the sentient oak trees of Woodwyn. When we die, our bodies and spirits become one with a chosen tree. That, in turn, causes the tree to become one of the Living Oaks.” 


Though it was enjoyable to return to familiar characters and the world of Aetherlan, if I had read How to Love Your Elf as a standalone novel, I would definitely not continue reading the rest of the series. In fact, I almost couldn’t believe I was reading the same series by the same author–and the publisher changes also made me question that. Despite my surprise at how little I liked How to Love Your Elf, I really thought the other novels of the Embraced/Embraced by Magic series were a lot of fun and I’m still invested in what happens to the last of the five Embraced Sisters, Maeve. I can only hope that How to Love Your Elf was a fluke in the series and that the last novel has better, more believable character development, an actual romance I feel like I can support without moral qualms, and dialogue that doesn’t make me laugh for the wrong reasons. 


Book Review : How to Love Your Elf - Blogging with Dragons

Posted January 24, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Romance

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