Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

51Fp8XBGpBLTo continue my read through of older (and sometimes overlooked) works in the history of fantasy and science fiction literature, I have arrived in 1924 for Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

Previously I’ve read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) and The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt (1924). I would recommend both for those interested in older literature of the spectacular. Also The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson was published in 1954, and fits as an influential book in its own right, if you’re interested in that.

The book was fantastic. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, though, no book is. There was a bit of a lag in the middle to end of the book, roughly the 50% to 75% mark. In addition, the story seems to have no real action by the main characters after the halfway point, but that’s by design. As far as how readable it is, I leave that up to the individual reader. I had no problem approaching the book, but will readily admit some difficulty after the middle section.

The story of the book was concerned with two kingdoms: the kingdom of men named Erl and the kingdom of fairies named Elfland. The king of Erl, in the beginning is asked by his people to give them a king who has magic. The king, knowing that what they were asking would lead to trouble, told his only son to venture to Elfland and wed the legendary princess there. That way, there would be magic in the royal bloodline.

The first quarter of the story was concerned with the prince of Erl finding his bride, returning with her, and living with her in Erl. Then, she decides to return to Elfland, and the rest of the book is concerned with the time difference between the two realms and how time doesn’t move for her and the fairies while the men search for a way to get to her.

The characters were the second weakest part of the book, the first being the plot. The titular character, Lirazel, was fascinating as a concept. But as a character she’s shallow. Lirazel was torn between loving Alveric and Erl, and longing to return to Elfland and her father.

Alveric himself was an unsympathetic character who went from heroic in the first quarter to utterly useless in the latter parts of the book.

Their child, Orion, was the most interesting character, in my opinion. He loved his hounds, wanted to meet his mother, but doesn’t want to leave the world he knows behind. It’s complicated and interesting. Ultimately, it culminates in a hunt he took to kill a unicorn. This proved to the people of Erl he was skilled, but also that he had some magic in him after all. Honestly, I had no interest in the unicorn hunt, but it was beautifully told.

The best part of the book was Dunsany’s writing. His descriptions of Elfland as bordering on the twilight of the sky was something magical taken directly from fairytales. The King of Elfland, himself, was never really seen as much as felt. He’s a presence in the story, whose power and authority echo throughout the tale. It’s fascinating and interesting and beautiful. The runes he used in the story had earth-shattering effects, able to change the border of his land to recede, to block people from entering.

It’s an amazing story. I would recommend it for anyone who loves older fiction and fantasy books.

Lord Dunsany writes like a man who has the muses on his shoulder, feeding him the language of imagination and wonder themselves.


You might like some of my other work:

What is Science Fiction?

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Writing with Inspiration

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Book Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

9781101965337-us-300Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan is a fine work in high fantasy. I will admit I imagined a far different story from the summary than what it ended up being, but it was a good read. I think I burned through it in about one afternoon.

I will be covering the characters, so if you don’t want to hear the beats of the story, just know I think it was a good book, but wish it had been more focused.

The story follows a few characters:

Raithe is a warrior from a barbarian-type clan. He maliciously kills a Fhrey, a god to humans, in a dispute of his father and his father’s family sword. Raithe is called the god-killer, and as such travels with his new companion, Malcolm, a former slave of the Fhrey. They eventually find themselves in Dahl Rhen.

Arion is the next character, though it feels she was underutilized. Arion is the tutor to the prince, and as such holds a great amount of respect in Fhrey society. She’s a gifted mage (or whatever they call them) and has great powers even among the Fhrey. Interestingly, the Fhrey society seems to have almost developed a caste system over time, and it was only slightly touched upon in the book. She is eventually told to find the god-killer.

Persephone is the widow of the former chief of Dahl Rhen. She is intelligent and finds herself drawn to Raithe, when the man arrives. However, it’s interesting how she keeps him at arm’s length due to her recent loss. She also listens to Suri, a young mystic with a pet wolf.

Suri is my least favorite character. She seemingly has no real problems or weaknesses. Instead, she’s already gifted and even Arion sees a skilled mage in her. I’m not sure why she rubs me the wrong way other than the fact that she’s supposed to be perfect; all bad things seemingly come to her from outside, never internally. Suri has foretold the coming destruction of their society, and because of that she works with Persephone to forestall it.

REAL SPOILERS BELOW, read on at your own peril!

The only thing I didn’t like was the mention of Raithe’s killing of the Fhrey actually after he had incapacitated the elven being. It seemed like a big deal, but it was tossed aside with a single line of dialogue towards the end of the book.

Also, there was the “conspiracy” aspect. I won’t spoil it for you, but it came out of nowhere and felt like it wasn’t set up at all. Payoffs require setups, so I wish it had been setup better.

 

Ultimately, I liked the book. Great characters and an interesting setting. I would love to see more of the Fhrey, so we’ll see how the next books are!

 


 

If you liked my review you might like these others:

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like these posts I wrote about scifi and writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Finding Your Writing Style

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins