Book Review: An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Series: Book 3 of Iskryne World
Publisher: Tor (10/13/15)
Author Information: Sarah Monette | Elizabeth Bear
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s no surprise that my interest was piqued as soon as I saw the names on the cover of this book, considering how last year I loved Sarah Monette’s The Goblin Emperor (under her pseudonym Katherine Addison) and earlier this year I greatly enjoyed my first book by Elizabeth Bear. Better yet, I was told that even though An Apprentice to Elves is technically book three of the Iskryne World sequence, it would work perfectly fine as a standalone. I certainly did not need much more convincing.
Indeed, while An Apprentice to Elves builds upon the events from the first two novels, it features a new protagonist, making this a fine place to jump on board. It is also a time of great change in the series’ setting, a world of harsh winters and long weeks of darkness. For generations, these lands have been home to a warrior society whose men distinguish themselves by becoming wolfcarls, fighters who form telepathic bonds with the giant, intelligent beasts called Trellwolves. But now, ships bearing strange visitors who call themselves the Rheans have come to these shores, and they are here to conquer the north for themselves.
The story follows Alfgyfa, a young woman who is sent by her father to the home of the Alfar to apprentice with a mastersmith named Tin. Because of her gender, Alfgyfa is forbidden from bonding with her own Trellwolf, but that doesn’t stop her from making friends with the wild wolves of the forest, much to the exasperation of her mentor. While growing up with the elves, Alfgyfa also learns much about her hosts’ history and culture, like the fact that a split in Alfar society generations ago still causes much political friction and animosity between the factions today. However, peace talks are surrounded by a pall of uncertainty as all eyes turn to the Rhean threat, and no one is quite sure what the war will bring.
First thing that struck me about this book was the world-building. While this story takes place in a fantasy world, it nonetheless draws inspiration from Norse culture and history. We see these influences in the character names, their language, as well as their way of life. The Rheans are also very clearly supposed to be the Romans, invading the north with their war elephants and legions of professional soldiers. The Rhean army’s discipline in battle is unlike anything the cultures of Iskryne have seen before, and from what we know of the power-hungry expansionism ways of the Roman Empire, this spells very bad news for Alfgyfa and her people indeed.
However, all this attention to detail is also a double-edged sword. Monette and Bear certainly do not skimp when it comes to world building, but very often these descriptions can become too much to the point of being overwhelming. While keeping in mind that An Apprentice to Elves doesn’t have a fast-moving plot to begin with, the authors take their time explaining the world and its characters thus bogging down the story even more. As a newcomer to this series, I appreciated the information that was meant to help new readers like me catch up, like how the wolf bond works, or how the different societies in Iskryne are structured. But a huge chunk of the story is also given to establishing Alfar politics, so there are admittedly sections in this book that are heavier and more difficult to read than others.
So if you’re looking for action, I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a book for you, though there are a couple of big and thrilling battle scenes at the end which made me glad I persevered. There’s also political intrigue, but it’s of the more subdued and less suspenseful sort, which inevitably made me think back to The Goblin Emperor which also exuded the same vibes. I definitely sense more than a few similarities between the two books in terms of how their stories made me feel, as well as the somewhat steep learning curve to familiarize myself with all the names and places. If you’ve followed the Iskryne World series all along though, this probably won’t be as much of an issue.
Still, for someone completely new to this series, I feel like I got to experience a great deal. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the story, though in a bizarre way, I almost wish there were more books to follow because I feel like I spent most of this one learning the intricacies of the world. Alas, as far as I know, An Apprentice to Elves is the third and final installment of a trilogy, so I am considering going back to read the first two novels.
I never know when they write under other names! *makes a note*
Haha, sometimes it’s no secret, sometimes it takes some digging 🙂
I’ve done that; read the final book in a trilogy/series, and liked it enough to want to go back. MyB2B problem is the going back part. I never do. Still, glad you enjoyed this for the most part.
I’m the same way, that’s why these days I try not to jump in mid-series unless I know 100% sure that I can read it as a stand alone. Most times the book covers events from the previous ones anyway so I can get by with reading forwards and not having to go back 🙂
it’s nice you had so many things in this new series. I tried a book by Bear but it was part of a series so I was lost but I should try somlething from the start
Haha, I know you’re always starting books mid-series though, so you are better at adapting than me! 🙂
I ended up deciding I’d definitely read the series from the start… but being me, I haven’t got to it yet. Shame on me, haha. I need to get on and read this!
Probably a wise decision! This was perfectly fine as a stand alone, but yes, if you want more of the world building and a fuller experience, definitely start from book 1.
I hadn’t realised this was the end – what a shame. It kind of didn’t feel like the end somehow. This is definitely a slow burner and quite detailed. I enjoyed the writing, in fact thought it was lovely, but definitely not everyone’s cup of tea I think. Like you said, maybe reading the first two would have been a good idea – or to go back and do so more to the point! That being said i think this can be read as a standalone.
I think I saw somewhere that it was a trilogy, so yeah that would make this the end. It honestly didn’t feel like the end to me either, but it was also a satisfying ending. If the authors want to continue, I guess they always have that option 🙂
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