The Elfin Ship: Charming, light-hearted and funny

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Elfin Ship by James P. BlaylockThe Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock

Audible has recently put several of James P. Blaylock’s novels in audio format, so I’m giving a few of them a try. The Elfin Ship, first published in 1982, is the first book in Blaylock’s BALUMNIA trilogy about a whimsical fantasy world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and (because it’s Blaylock), a few steampunk elements such as submarines and airships.

In The Elfin Ship we meet Jonathan Bing, a cheesemaker who lives in a quaint little village with his dog Ahab. It’s just before Christmas, a time when Bing should be selling his famous cheeses to neighboring towns. However, something is afoot in the outside world and trade is drying up. Not only is Bing’s business in danger, but all of the villagers will have a dreary holiday if they are unable to buy their traditional toys and treats. Somebody must be sent to investigate what’s happening outside the village and it’s obvious that Master Cheeser Bing is just the right person to go. Bing is reluctant — he’s just an ordinary stay-at-home kind of guy — but he’s single and his lifestyle depends on successful trade relations. So, accompanied by his dog Ahab, Professor Wurzle, and a simple boy named Dooly, Bing sets out on a quest that he hopes will uncover the mystery and save his village’s Christmas. Along the way they meet strange folks, have frightening adventures, encounter magical items, and discover secrets.

The Elfin Ship has an appealing setting. Twombly Town, Bing’s comfy village, feels like the shire — it’s a warm friendly place where everyone knows each other and life is sweet. When Bing and his friends leave for their quest, I was eager and ready for an adventure, but by the time the characters have been hazarding the wilds for a while, I found myself understanding why they were anxious to return to their friends and the comforts of Twombly Town. I liked this homey feel.

The characters are also likable. The Master Cheeser and the Professor are good people who are clever and witty. Dooly is sweet and there’s more to him than meets the eye. And, of course, there’s Ahab — who doesn’t love a loyal and friendly dog? There are no women in the story, unfortunately.

Many readers, including children and teens, will absolutely adore The Elfin Ship. There are a few dark moments, but mostly the novel is charming, light-hearted and funny, and there are bits of wisdom and important life lessons included. Its wholesome hominess feels a little like The Hobbit or The Wind in the Willows. The Elfin Ship stands alone, but there are two more BALUMNIA novels set in the same world with overlapping characters: The Disappearing Dwarf and The Stone Giant.

Malk Williams did a great job with the narration of Audible’s version (sample). He has a British accent and his warm voice fit perfectly with the cozy feel. I could imagine him sitting in a quaint inn, drinking a beer, smoking a pipe, and telling us this story.

Balumnia — (1982-1989) Humorous fantasy. Each novel can stand alone. Publisher: Trading with the elves used to be so simple. Every year Master Cheeser Jonathan Bing would send his very best cheeses downriver to traders who would eventually return with Elfin wonders for the people of Twombly Town. But no more. First the trading post at Willowood Station was mysteriously destroyed. Then a magical elfin airship began making forays overhead; Jonathan knew something was definitely amiss. So he set off downriver to deliver the cheeses himself, accompanied by the amazing Professor Wurzle, the irrepressible Dooly, and his faithful dog Ahab. It would have been a pleasant trip, if not for the weeping skeleton, mad goblins, magic coins, an evil dwarf, a cloak of invisibility — and a watch that stopped time. However, the return trip would not be so simple. This, the first volume in a trilogy, tells the story of Master Cheeser Jonathan Bing who sends his best cheeses downriver each year to the elves, in exchange for elfin treasures for the people of Twombly Town. When things go wrong, Jonathan has to set out to deliver the cheeses himself.

James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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