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I Belong

Review: An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

An Apprentice to ElvesTitle: An Apprentice to Elves

Author: Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Iskryne World (Book #3)

Publication Date: October 13, 2015

Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages

ISBN-10: 0765324717 (Tor/Macmillan)

ISBN-13: 978-0765324719 (Tor/Macmillan)

Reviewed by: Kristie


“[Bear and Monette] have boldly created a fascinating world that begs further exploration.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review, on A Companion to Wolves

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear return with the third book in their Iskryne trilogy, An Apprentice to Elves. The trilogy began with A Companion to Wolves, and continued in The Tempering of Men. This novel picks up the story of Alfgyfa, a young woman who has been raised in the Wolfhall by her father, Isolfr.

The warrior culture of Iskryne forbids many things to women—and most especially it forbids them bonding to one of the giant telepathic trelwolves. But as her father was no ordinary boy, Alfgyfa is no ordinary girl. Her father has long planned to send his daughter to Tin, a matriarch among the elves who live nearby, to be both apprentice and ambassador, and now she is of age to go.

Quick & Dirty: For the diehard fantasy fan, this novel has a richly detailed world and complex characters.

Opening Sentence: Even as a grown woman of fifteen, Alfgyfa never stopped thinking about the wolves she had encountered as a child.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

An Apprentice to Elves is the third novel in The Iskryne series by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. This is definitely a series/novel for the die-hard fantasy novel fan. An Apprentice to Elves can be read as a standalone novel. I didn’t read the first two novels but the last one mainly focuses on the main characters’ daughter, Alfgyfa and her journey as she is torn between two worlds, those of regular humans and the svartalfar (elves).

Alfgyfa is human but she isn’t quite just a regular plain human, she can communicate with wolves just like her father. As a child she was sent to live with the svartalfar to apprentice as a blacksmith. It was done as a political move by her father because he knew that the elves needed to see a human grow up and hopefully the elves may offer to help to the Northmen (Alfgyfa’s fellow countrymen) when they go to war with the Rheans (southern invaders).

An Apprentice to Elves does not just focus on Alfgyfa. The novel also follows several other characters, Otter, Tin and Fargrimr and how the impending war effects each of their lives. Otter was once a Rhean slave. She knows their tactics and tries to help the Northmen with what is coming. Otter has made a better life for herself since she was rescued and hopes that she will never return to Rhean control ever again. Tin is the elf master blacksmith that is training Alfgyfa. She knows what it means to have a human in her home and hopes that the other elves will understand why an alliance can help them all. Fargrimr is a plain ‘ol human in charge of a settlement. His brother can speak to wolves. It is Fargrimr who mainly has to deal with the Rheans.

I absolutely loved the fantasy world that was set up in An Apprentice to Elves. I enjoyed the complexity between the humans who could communicate with wolves and those who couldn’t. Also, for the elves, the svartalfar whom are metal working elves to the excommunicated aettrynalfar elves whom could shape stone. I really liked the in depth detail about the everyday lives of all and how they each have adapted to the cold environment that they live. The Northmen are very similar to the Vikings.

I didn’t read the first two novels in this series so I did struggle with the terms at first. I didn’t quite understand the differences between wolfcarls, wolfheofodmenn, heal, konungur, trellwolves, wolfsprechend, karl, jarl and so forth. Most of these terms were not explained so I was left trying to figure out what they meant. By the end of the novel I did have a good idea of what everything meant. I didn’t get a chance to read the beginning of the novel again but I think I would be able to understand what was happening knowing now what I didn’t know then. This was a very slow read for me because of all the strange words.

There is a feminine message to An Apprentice to Elves. Alfgyfa often thinks about how different it is to be female as a human as opposed to being a female elf. Human females are often just for childbearing and housework while female elves are revered and in charge. They even get to do what they want like blacksmithing. A human female blacksmith would just be looked upon in disgust like the female elf is respected. There is also a deeper story with Fargrimr, which I’m sure is explained in one of the previous novels, but for this one, I was left in the dark so Fargrimr was very complex and left me wanting to know exactly what is up with “his” story.

If this novel is the final one in the trilogy, it does have an ending. I just felt it wrapped it up quickly. I like to have a little more closure in the final book.

Overall, An Apprentice to Elves is a well-rounded fantasy novel. The characters were quite complex and interesting. I really wanted to know their stories. An Apprentice to Elves is definitely a novel for those who really love fantasy novels because of the language (including the way characters talk and the titles) and the third person alternating views.

Notable Scene:

“Take Alfgyfa back to the Iskryne with you when you go.”

Tin looked at him crookedly. She hadn’t mentioned Alfgyfa’s apprentice difficulties to him. She wondered if Alfgyfa had. “She’s not happy there.”

“She’s not happy here, either. “ Isolfr said bleakly. “And she’s safer with you.”

“About that, I assure you, she does not care.”

He grinned, obviously proud. Humans were all mad. “She was always a wild creature. But if she stays here, the best she can hope for . . . the best she can hope for is to stay at the heal and take Thorlot’s place, but it’s far more likely she’ll get in trouble with with one of the tithe-boys the way her mother got in trouble with me. And then, it’s not that the heal wouldn’t support her and her child, but I fear . . .” He held his clenched fist out in front of him, then opened it, as if throwing all Alfgyfa’s potential to the wind.

“She loves the smithing,” Tin said, reaching up to pat him on the shoulder. “If you had meant to choose for her, you chose well.”

Iskryne World:

1. A Companion to Wolves

2. The Tempering of Men

3. An Apprentice to Elves


FTC Advisory: Tor/Macmillan provided me with a copy of An Apprentice to Elves. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.


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