“[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.
Cave dwelling elves, Viking and Roman inspired warriors, and telepathic wolves- this is not a recipe for a dull book. Apprentice to Elves was sent to me for review by Tor (how exciting!!!) and it’s the first hardcopy of a book that I’ve received from a publisher (double exciting!). I was initially hesitant to accept the offer because this is the third book in a series, but much of its focus is on a character not in the first two books so reading those before is not necessary. I enjoyed the book despite being a newcomer that jumped in the middle of the series.
The story focuses largely on Alfgyfa, the daughter of Isolfr, the character that the first two books centered around. She is apprenticed to an elven Mastersmith as a gesture of goodwill and alliance between the humans and the svartalfs (the elves), which has become strained since the close of the Trell wars roughly fifteen years past. Alfgyfa, whose name translates as elf gift, is young at fifteen or so years for much of the book, though the story introduces her when she’s just arrived with the elves and is around seven years of age. She is troublesome and rebellious by alf standards, her smithing is innovative and she’s tall and pale, where the alfs honor tradition and are hunched and dark.
The other center of focus is on her father Isolfr and the peoples south of the Iskryne as they face the looming threat of the Rheans. The Rheans are an invading people from the south, much akin to the Roman legions, ever conquering in order to feed and keep the empire’s center in riches. It is here that I was able to learn about the wolves and their telepathic connection to their human brethren. The wolves are cunning and clever and the humans fierce fighters due to the nature of their mental links. At times I was unclear if the names mentioned belonged to wolves or humans because they blended together so well. Eventually Alfgyfa’s and Isolfr’s storylines converge and the grand finale commences, which was quite impressive.
Overall, I enjoyed the book but will probably not continue the series, as I didn’t feel particularly connected to what was happening. Alfgyfa was definitely my favorite and I liked the alfs, who were unique among all the other elven-kind I’ve read about. The number of unusual words, titles, and terminology was somewhat of a stumbling block for me- it would have been great to have a glossary with a pronunciation guide in the back. A genealogy or a chart of the societal relationships would also have been a big help in understanding the sociology and politics happening.