My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What star rating for this varies with where in the book I was. Honestly it might have been four stars if I had read it fast but it took me nearly two weeks (no time to read as oppose to quality of the book) which gave me time to think and gave me time to overanalyze. Alina and Mal were orphans being raised in the duke’s household because there is apparently one aristocrat in the world that tries to be a decent guy. We see them being tested by the Grisha as children to see if they have magic.
The story fast forwards several years and Alina and Mal are in the army, she as a map maker and he as a tracker. Alina spends most of her time fretting over the gap in their friendship (she believes she’s not pretty enough and in fact some of his friends call her Sticks because she’s so weak and frail). They have to cross the Fold, a lightless expanse of land that cuts the kingdom off from its ports. The Fold was magic gone awry, created by the Black Heretic. The Darkling, the most feared (and unnamed other than by title) Grisha alive is the Heretic’s grandson several times removed.
When the monsters of the Fold nearly kill Mal, Alina tries to save him and it awakens her magic in a brilliant flash. She is the long lost Sun Summoner but her magic is locked deep inside her. The Darkling takes here away from Mal and races her to the king’s little palace for training. Assassins try to stop him and kill her because if she can do what the Darkling says and reverse the Fold, her country would be whole again and a century long war would be over.
Now if only the book kept up that exciting pace. Once we get to the middle of the book it bogs down in Alina’s training. All we get is she’s a failure at her training both physical and magical. She misses Mal. She doesn’t fit in with anyone and that she’s not pretty like the other Grisha. Yes, all the other Grisha are apparently lookers because magic is a jerk that way. And Alina goes on and on and ON about this. It’s like I heard you the first seventeen times. I don’t need to hear it again. She does make friends with another Grisha girl whose magic is to improve people’s looks among other things.
When Alina finally has her break through and accesses her magic, the Darkling reveals more of his plans. Alina finds herself more attracted to him and the idea that she could help remove the curse. The attraction, for me, is very uncomfortable because the magic allows the Grisha to live very long lives. So even though he looks young, the Darkling is well over a hundred years old. And a much older man in a position of power over the girl does not spell romantic or sexy to me.
The Darkling wants to get her an amplifier for her magic to help dispel the Fold by using the antlers of a mythical stag which isn’t quit mythical. However, Baghra, her magical trainer is against this but Alina is for anything that will help. This brings her back into Mal’s path, he’s the tracker after the herd and naturally his first response is to act like a jealous jerk, breaking them further apart and her closer to the Darkling.
But when Baghra tells her the Darkling isn’t what he seems, Alina instantly believes this with no proof (and this really bothered me. Alina can be so mousy she simply does and believes everything she’s told without questioning it or investigating it and that’s mostly where the one star went in my review, that and the oh woe is me, I’m not pretty crap). Alina has to make a choice go along with the Darkling’s plan or revolt.
While this story is complete within itself, it is part of a trilogy. I guess I’ll get the next out from the library to see what happens but I wish Mal were a better drawn character. We only see him through Alina’s lens. As jealous jerk or willing to die for her with no personality in between. Also, I am very tired of the pretend Earth stuff. Either make it Earth with magic or just do the world building and make it your own world. I like that she wanted a Non-European setting but the faux-Russian language annoyed me.
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ElfQuest 2: The Forbidden Grove by Wendy Pini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second of the bound volumes of Elfquest. It picks up several years down the road with Leetah and Cutter’s twins, the very much wolfrider girl, Ember, and her magic-possessing, intellectual brother, Suntop. After centuries of peaceful living in the desert, the elves’ calm is ruined by humans finding Sorrow’s End. While they are turned away by Cutter and company, they also give the elves something to think about: there could be more human tribes and elfish ones as well out there.
Cutter and Skywise go in search of them. Leetah stays home, not wanting to deprive her village of her magic. The friends first go back to the Trolls and learn of other troll tribes and the damage they’ve done. The holt is still nothing but burnt out emptiness (showing a lack of research. By five years there would be some recovery but okay whatever).
As they travel on, Cutter gets a septic squirrel bite and while Skywise is off looking for herbal medicine, an outcast human woman and her husband take care of him. Much to Cutter and Skywise’s utter shock, the humans are kindly and she is from a tribe who worshiped bird riding elves, the ‘bird spirits,’ while her husband’s people did not and they cast them out because of her. Skywise is far more wary but Cutter is willing to let his prejudice go and helps her and her husband go back to his people because he wants to know more about the bird spirits. He’s been traveling almost four months and this is the best lead he’s had.
In the meantime, Savah has astral projected herself right into danger and can’t get back to her body. She does get a message to Suntop and he needs to get it to his father. Leetah and the Wolfriders go in search of Cutter. This is where you just take the leap of faith that Leetah catches right up to them. It’s like was Cutter going in circles? Also this reminded me of why I disliked Strongbow and Moonshade. He’s a jerk and she’s got no personality outside of him.
Unfortunately for Cutter, his people were taken prisoner by big birds and to Suntop’s horror his father is going right to the place that Savah sent him to stop Cutter from going to in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.
I still enjoy it even after all these years (I first read this nearly 30 years ago). The art is just beautiful. The storyline is good. I see things now that I was too young to see them, like how prejudice and xenophobia destroy everything and everyone around them. I would have gotten very bored with EQ even back then if it was always ‘oooo, evil humans.’ (in fact I dropped out of many a holt back in the day since that’s the only story lines the editors would approve). The one negative is the inclusion of the original color covers. They are extremely poorly done. They look like they were copied on 80’s copier and shoved in.
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