Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A review of Brandon Draga's The Summerlark Elf

It’s no secret that I tend to prefer more consumable, serialized works of fantasy when compared to the meganovels we saw as the industry standard for many years. I believe the genre is finally starting to move away from the 400,000 word entries in sprawling 10-book series spanning across decades. Embittered fans of these works that feel spurned by multi-year gaps between entries are starting to look towards smaller, more contained stories to fill their time. My own books trend towards this philosophy and I look to newer authors as siezing opportunities left by giants of Fantasy.

The Summerlark Elf feels like just such a story. At its heart, The Summerlark Elf is a story about the importance of family, whether by blood or circumstance, and it tells it with genuine warmth and a modest cast of characters whose motivations are clearly expressed over the length of the novel. Fans of traditional fantasy or Dungeons and Dragons will feel right at home among the varied and diverse people of the 4 Kingdoms. All the traditional trappings are here: Elves, dwarves, halflings, thieves guilds, and dark plots that tangle and entrap the heroes of the story and force them to change and adapt to overcome each challenge.

The story itself primarily focuses on Enna Summerlark, an orphaned elf adopted as an infant by a merchant and his wife in a kingdom where fey creatures are persecuted by a king living in fear and his oppressive archmage advisor. Enna is unaware of her mystic origins, whose manifestation lands her in trouble and launches the primary conflicts of the story. For reasons unknown, nefarious powers are interested in Enna, and have dispatched agents to collect her. Don’t expect too many details to be revealed, as this plot hook serves to set up the following volumes in the series.

All in all, The Summerlark Elf feels like a great introduction to the 4 Kingdoms Saga, establishing the world, the cast, the political climate and the culture. It’s reminiscent of the first book of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, in that it serves as a launching point for the other entries in the world of Enna Summerlark and her companions.

You should read this book if you enjoy shorter works of fiction, traditional fantasy trappings, books about familial ties, and earnest adventuring.

You should avoid this book if you prefer longer or self-contained works, more esoteric and unfamiliar settings, and fantasy where magic and the supernatural are kept to a minimum.