Written by Adrienne Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services
Warning: This is not a spoiler-free review.
After doing a ton of yardwork during Memorial Day weekend, I decided to reward myself (and let my sore legs rest) by reading a book. Hunting through my double-stacked bookshelf of TBR books (To Be Read), I found I had the three books in the Halfblood Trilogy written in the 1990s by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton. Supposedly a fourth book, Elvenbred, was to be released in 2012, but it was delayed. Due to the death of Andre Norton, and the ensuing lawsuit over her estate, this book may never be released.
I know I’ve read Elvenbane (published in 1991) before, likely in the late 90s whilst I was in college. I voraciously read in college, being someone who didn’t really study, according to my mother. Also I had little typical college social life and a boyfriend who lived 1000 miles away. You can see I had a lot of time on my hands and continuing to be a voracious reader was par for the course since I’d been one since I’d learned to read.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I started tracking my reading, and I was able to back-track a large number of books that I had read in the prior decade – but not all of them. Truth be told, I can’t remember if I managed to read the entire trilogy, although given Elvenborn was released in 1996 [Correction: actually 2002 – Ed.], it is likely I did. My goal in obtaining the trilogy was to re-read to prepare to read Elvenbred. Since I don’t know when or if that fourth book will be released, I decided to give myself some known enjoyable reading.
It isn’t often I re-read books anymore. Time is much less available for reading now than it was back in college. So, off I went, to sit with my feet up in my big comfy chair with a cup of hot chocolate (because it had begun to rain) and read.
I remembered the opening chapters fairly well. This time, as well as before, I was disappointed when Serina died. You may have guessed from previous reviews, I really dislike when parents die. I understand why she had to die for the main character’s development, but still. It is truly its own trope in narratives.
While I do not know if Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton consider(ed) themselves feminists, the book sure has a feminist bent. There are clear feminist points in this book: a strong female lead and many female supporting characters (although fewer by about half-way through the book than I would like, i.e., back to nearly none) and one of the villains is also female, showing that women can be more than one character-type. However, I doubt I caught many of the feminist narratives when I read through it in college. The primary premise is to free the human slaves from their Elven masters, but also they throw in getting a little more equality between the genders in the Elven society.
One particular quote struck a cord I thought is true in today’s struggles for equality. When Shana was considering her newly met potential ally Valyn and if allies might be found among the elves, she considers “From what Keman had said, that was one of many possibilities. Some of the younger sons—and possibly daughters, from what she’d seen—were perfectly ready to take up almost any cause, so long as it meant their own particular grievance might also be addressed.” (p 179 pdf, p438 mass market paperback) Of course this isn’t a direct parallel to today’s need for intersectionality, since the grievances that would be addressed are actually for lower members of the oppressing class.
I had to disagree with Alara’s assessment of Serina at the beginning. I didn’t think Serina making the best of the circumstances of her birth to become the top concubine for her Elven master was shallow at all. In fact, Alara makes many similar suggestions and she isn’t kept from thinking for herself by a control collar! There is also a bit of disgust and slut shaming whenever the plight of the concubines is mentioned. That a woman would make the most of such a life seemed awful to most of them. Sadly, I saw many, many reflections of current society, both in large atrocities committed and in those who turned the other way. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a lack of human diversity in the books.
The story is set in the region of the United States. I had a little trouble mapping out the new geography, but was clued in by a reference to the Mohave Desert. When the Elves showed up and enslaved the human race is not specified. When it happened, human civilization was wiped off the face of the earth. Given the make-up of the population in the area near the Mohave Desert in the late 1980s, I would expect a lot more people of color in the books to be described. Language is explained away as a part of what the Elves crushed out of the humans hundreds of years ago. Now some polyglot human language is spoken that consists of mostly Elvish.
Even though my copy is 566 pages in mass market paperback, it’s a fairly quick read. It is interesting to note the differences of how stories progressed in the 90s versus now. There was a lot of time skipping and I feel like more details are explained today rather than left to the imagination. That could also explain why books get to 1000 pages today.
This is definitely worth the read if you like fantasy, stories of alternate earths, dragons, or magic.
The story continues on in Elvenblood, published in 1995. What older books have you re-read recently?