The Elvenbane is written by two giants of fantasy and science fiction, Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. Specifically, two female giants of fantasy. I have learned that Norton was supposedly a mentor or Lackey as were other giant names like Marion Zimmer Bradley. Norton is apparently often called the “Grand Dame” of science fiction and fantasy. Lackey may be less well known, I’m not sure, but she was a name that was more familiar to me when I first read this book. I like to think that maybe the knowledge that these were two important women writing this story together was somehow intuitively known for me at the age I discovered this book and its sequels, but the truth is I didn’t know who any of these people were when I was in High School devouring fantasy novel after fantasy novel. I just liked to read all the time and fantasy was my genre of choice.
The Elvenbane features some great beats of the fantasy genre: Elves and Humans and dragons, cultures at odds and at war with each other, magic and magical mixing, intrigue and secrecy, outcasts and underdogs winning out. In it, Alora (sp? Because I listened and don’t have the hard copy to refer to), Shaman Dragon of her lair, discovers a human concubine near dead in the desert, where no human slave of an elven lord should be. The human is pregnant and delirious and Alora’s own pregnancy and sympathy propels her to break certain draconic codes of secrecy to assist the woman with her delivery and then save the child. She raises the half-blood as a foster daughter along her son and from there, Shana (as the child is named), grows into a powerful wizard, seemingly destined to fit within the Dragon’s “prophecy” as the Elvenbane, even when the prophecy was thought only to be a trick played on the Elves. Throughout the novel, Shana is joined by others seeking to change the old ways, and it is the young generations of dragons, elves, humans, and half-bloods that end up fighting to change the world they live in, rebelling against the traditions and norms that have controlled their lives.
Listening to this book was an exercise in nostalgia and distraction and wasn’t without its disappointment. I read and re-read the series this book belongs to a handful of times in High School and college. I always loved it and returned to it when I needed comfort. I held onto the books for a long time but finally gave them away in one of my recent moves, thinking that I was probably done with them. Go figure I had the urge for fantasy while working in my studio one evening and turned to this again, pleased to find it existed in audio book form and equally pleased to find I didn’t hate the narrator’s voice (the book was published in 1993 so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it).
Ultimately, in my re-read/listen I wasn’t able to identify why this was the particular book I returned to. It mostly seems like a fairly basic and straightforward fantasy novel. The main characters are mostly likeable but sometimes obnoxious. They employ strange secrecies that feel like useful tools to progress the plot and that’s it. I do like the difference in magics between the Elves, the Dragons, and the Humans, but that’s not such a unique feature, just a nice structure for the book. The world building is interesting, but not so rich that it could be called riveting. I definitely appreciate that sex/romance is a part of the book, but not a central feature, an issue I sometimes run into with other fantasy. I was often uncomfortable with some of the descriptions of human slavery, which is, I suppose, a good thing, but it was just as often the main characters reactions to those descriptions/realities as it was that they existed. I felt a sense of loftier goals with the issues of class, slavery, labor, and gender within the book that weren’t quite captured well, though I couldn’t specify what exactly was amiss. Still, I also like that the book even attempted to tackles such ideas, even if they didn’t hit the mark every time.
I still enjoy this book but I probably won’t finish re-reading the entire series, which is not the best sign. But it really wasn’t bad either. So, if you’re up for an enjoyable but forgettable fantasy book/series this might be for you.