Elfhome - Wen Spencer This is the book #3 of the series, and to my disappointment, the first 50 pages or so are spent in reintroducing the characters from the previous two novels. Nothing much happens in the first third of the book, and even the reintroductions are not complete. If I read this book without reading the other two first, I’d still don’t know who the characters were or how they looked. What were their relationships with other characters? Whom they liked? Whom they hated? What were their goals? Most characters traveled from the other two novels but lost some personal baggage along the way.
It was really irritating, because I don’t remember much about the first two novels. I read them several years ago, and the details are unclear. I must reread them.
What I do remember is that I cared a lot about Tinker, the heroine of the first two novels, and I wanted so much to be charmed by her again. It didn’t happen. I’m not even sure Tinker is relevant to this novel. She plays a strictly secondary role and could be removed from the plot altogether.
When the action finally picks up around page 80, the protagonists that emerge are Tinker’s cousin Oilcan and Tommy, a half-breed Oni. Oilcan is the one who propels the plot forward. A compassionate young human man, he takes a lost teenage elf under his wing, and from his one act of kindness, the plot shoots forward, and the knots start unraveling. Oilcan’s innocuous humanity inspires many other characters to finally spring into action.
Unfortunately, Oilcan’s own actions are all on a very small scale: he is simply an epitome of humanity. While the heroes around him perform their heroic deeds and risk their lives, he buys food and cleans a house for his adopted charges: a bunch of orphaned teenage elves. In real life, he would be the one to go to for help. In a fantasy novel, he is not as much a hero as a catalyst. His small movements start an avalanche of activity.
Another protagonist Tommy is even more of an unlikely hero. In the beginning, he seems an insignificant secondary character, unpleasant and slightly amoral. The haughty elves have only scorn for him and his people, half-breed Oni. And Tommy loathes the elves right back, but he hates the heinous Oni even more and would do anything to thwart their sinister schemes.
All he wants for his clan of half-breeds is to be left alone to live in Pittsburgh in peace. Most of his people are females and children anyway; none of them can fight. But Tommy doesn’t have a choice. The events conspire to force him into action. If he doesn’t save the elves’ butts, not once but twice, the pompous elves would blame him and his tribe for their own failures. So as the tension mounts, he becomes the reluctant hero of this strange, uneven tale.
All the interconnected bustle and maneuvering of the novel take place in Pittsburgh, a human city dropped into the Elven world by mistake. The city is an interesting phenomenon, spotlighted by Spencer better than any individual character. A melting pot of humans, elves, and other races, the city is almost alive with its fusion music and its manifold contradictions. The war the elves wage against Oni, a race of cruel, evil invaders, is mostly implied, in the background of the plot. When in the middle of this war, which the Elven clans are supposed to fight together, the clans’ hostility towards each other manifests, the story becomes totally believable. When the arrogant elves display their disdain towards the ‘lesser’ races, I know the writer is telling the truth.
Unfortunately, her insights into the frictions of a multinational city don’t counteract the problems of this novel. The narrative is dotted with typos, too many to ignore. For a respectable, established publisher like Baen, so many typos in one book is embarrassing. Another chafing feature of the book is its abundance of Elven vocabulary. None of the Elven words were ever explained or translated. I had to guess what they meant, which as a reader, I found vexatious. After all, I was reading a book written in English. The least the author could do was to provide a dictionary.
Furthermore, there are too many subplots, some of them utterly unnecessary. With so much going on, the focus of the novel became blurry. I didn’t know who to cheer for. The entire story seemed disheveled and sloppy. It could’ve benefited from an editor’s ruthless comb. Why didn’t it get one, I wonder?