In the world of Elvenbane, elves have subjugated humanity because… well, they’re elves, frankly: magical and long-lived and perfectly capable of taking what they want. Apparently having served as the unselfish goodie-goodies one too many times, elves have instead been refreshingly cast as the fantasy version of the Roman Empire in this text, conquering and enslaving other races out of a sense of entitlement and a desire to expand their power. Humans are used for menial labor and sexual gratification, but any human/elf hybrid must by law be killed, as apparently these half-breeds can become very magically powerful and might do something crazy like pitying the wrong bough of the family tree. With a set-up like this, it’s really no surprise that our heroine is just such a hybrid, born of a pregnant human concubine fleeing into the desert. The young girl, called Shana, is raised by dragons for a time, but her magical powers eventually manifest and she is cast out after an incident with a young dragon. Relatively on her own, she makes her way toward joining a revolution and taking on the prophesied role the title hints at.
Elvenbane starts off with a very entertaining premise, I admit, and though I am far from a Mercedes Lackey fan, I was willing to give the Andre Norton/Mercedes Lackey team the benefit of the doubt and have a look. For a time, I was not disappointed (if not actively inspired) and was ready to log this away as a blandly fun fantasy romp.
The trouble, however, starts to emerge at about the two-fifths mark. It’s at that point that, for whatever reason, the Lackey/Norton pairing stops being a happy marriage. Reading the book was like watching them bickering. Something would happen — a big plot point — and then it would be swept under the rug in the next chapter, only to come roaring back a little later. Plot threads would appear from nowhere as though they had been ongoing, and then simply vanish without a trace. I can’t decide whether the communication was bad, the editing did strange things, or whether these two women really were sort of passive-aggressively hacking each other’s plot points into dust, but it makes for a very disjointed reading experience. To provide one example among many, there is at one point a brewing romance between two main characters left on a dramatic cliffhanger. Then it’s almost immediately, and absurdly casually, put down in the next chapter. Twenty pages later, it returns and becomes the basis for the protagonist’s entire emotional state. Then it goes poof and we never hear from it again.
The number of dangling plot threads in Elvenbane is maddening, and even the characterization is affected. In order to fill certain roles in whatever direction one of them is trying to take the story at a given moment, characters will suddenly be revealed as different figures than they were portrayed as up to this point, carelessly flouting all evidence to the contrary provided so far that makes it abundantly clear this change was unplanned. What’s even worse is that once they’ve done their duty to the plot, they’ll undergo a sudden conversion experience and change right back again.
This last has Mercedes Lackey written all over it. She has always been a careless author with no sense of dramatic timing and the mistaken belief that she can get away with abrupt, sweeping changes without the slightest consequence to her world. She’s not better, and is even a bit worse than usual, in this book.
I do have one positive element to note in Elvenbane, and that is that Ms. Norton is not only a far superior author to Lackey, but actually manages to provide some very good imagery and characterization. When the book swings up, I’m pretty sure it’s her hand on the tiller. It does swing up once in a while, and as I’ve said, it begins very well.
But once again, the latter part of the book swiftly descends into Lackey’s customary undramatic blather, with its cohesion shot all to ribbons by Norton and Lackey’s apparent inability to work together effectively.
I give it points for the concept, and for Ms. Norton’s truly entertaining prose in some places. But honestly, the plot is a complete shambles, and whatever dramatic moments the book has are smothered by Lackey.