Author: Freda Warrington
Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary
Publication Date: August 2009
Hardcover: 464 Pages
Elfland is an intimate, sensual novel of people—both human and Aetherial—caught between duty and desire. It’s a story of families, and of Rose Fox, a woman born to magic but tormented by her place in her adopted world.
Led by Auberon Fox, a group of Aetherials—call them the Fair Folk, if you will—live among us, indistinguishable from humans. Every seven years, on the Night of the Summer Stars, Lawrence Wilder, the Gatekeeper, throws open all gates to the Other World. But this time, something has gone wrong. Wilder has sealed the gates, warning of a great danger lurking in the realm beyond them. The Aetherial community is outraged. What will become of them, deprived of the home realm from which their essential life force flows?
Rose Fox and Sam Wilder are drawn to the lands beyond the gates, even as their families feud over Lawrence’s refusal to do his duty. Struggling with their own too-human urges, they discover hidden truths that draw them together in a forbidden alliance. Only by breaching the dreaded gates and daring the danger beyond can they confront that which they fear most— their otherness—and claim their birthright.
Stand alone or series: Book one in the Aetherials Trilogy (but, can be read as a stand alone novel)
How did I get this book: Bought (ebook)
Why did I read this book: I’ve had my eye on Elfland since prior to its release last year…but never actually got around to purchasing the book. So, when I received an ARC of Midsummer Night, the second book in the Aetherials series, I knew it was time to finally get on board with Ms. Warrington’s work!
In Rosie Fox’s world, humans unknowingly live alongside creatures called Aetherials – or fairies. Those Aetherials that choose to live on Earth amongst humans are “demi-mortal” (that is, they remain young and live for a time period much longer than several mortal lifespans), have the ability to use limited magic, and every year can replenish themselves by traveling through the Gates that divide the mortal realm from the Aetherial realm – a realm called the Spiral. Every year, the Gates are opened by an assigned keeper that alone possesses the ability to allow earthbound Aetherials access to the Spiral…until one year, when the guardian, the aloof, cold Lawrence Wilder, announces to the fae that he has decided to close the gates indefinitely. For it is Lawrence’s most closely held secret and private terror that something terrible has awakened in the Spiral, and to open the Gates would mean the end of the Aetherials – of the world itself.
The other fae, choosing not to believe in Lawrence’s vague premonitions, are outraged. As each year passes, the earthly Aetherials grow weaker and more disconnected from their true natures – and the Aetherial children, especially, grow up without fully understanding what it means to be an elemental creature.
Elfland is the story of one such young Aetherial named Rosie Fox, the middle child and lone daughter of the Fox family – neighbors to the cold, strained Wilder family. In contrast to Lawrence, his errant wife, and two troubled sons, the Foxes are a family of solidarity and warmth. With two loving and supportive parents, Rosie and her brothers Matthew and Lucas have been born and raised in a household that embraces their Aetherial natures – but these children grow up never having been to the Spiral. Though these two powerful families seem to have nothing in common, the Wilders and Foxes have an intertwined history and and even more twisted fate. Rosie’s story begins when she is just nine years old, and she meets Sam and John Wilder for the first time, despising the two haughty, beautiful boys from the start. As the years progress, Rosie’s tumultuous relationship with the Wilders, her own family dynamic, and her life choices mount and change in ways that are emotionally human, if of an ethereal being.
All the while, the Gates remain locked tight…but as Lucas and John experiment to travel to the Spiral forbidden to them, those same Gates ever so slowly become opened.
Elfland, the first title in my foray to the works of author Freda Warrington, is an exhilarating, wondrous read. The scope of the imagination is breathtaking, as is Ms. Warrington’s evocative writing. Contemporary fae novels abound in today’s fantasy genre, yet Ms. Warrington’s brutal, sensual story about two Aetherial families stands out as truly unique and memorable. From a pure worldbuilding and writing perspective, I loved the idea of polarized Aetherials – those who chose to stay in the realm of the Spiral, and those that choose to live amongst mortals – just as I loved the new mythos and lifespan of these particular fae (growing up but then eventually returning to the Spiral to be reborn). But while there are these magical elements, even culminating in a journey through this surrealist realm of fairy before the end of the novel, Elfland isn’t some magic-heavy story about fairies playacting at humanity, waving their hands and magicking mortals and shrinking from iron or whatever.
No, though there is a broad swath of magic and the fantastic running throughout Elfland, this book truly is a novel about characters. Aetherials the Foxes and Wilders may be at their core, but these are very flawed and genuine human characters with human emotions and failings. How can I describe the jagged beauty of Elfland, its world and above all, its characters? It’s like taking a dash of the “magical realism” (ugh) of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and crossing it with the idealist beauty of a Juliet Marillier or Patricia McKillip. The result is something lushly beautiful and fantastical, but rooted in human emotions and failings (without any of the shameless exploitative ennui of Grossman’s novel – which we did not like). Take heroine Rosie, for example: from the beginning of the book, she is prejudiced to hate Sam Wilder for his teasing and theft of her beloved necklace, and then she falls head over heels in “love” with younger brother John and refuses to be dissuaded from her stubborn views of love and character (never mind that John is as deep and sexy as a stagnant kiddie pool on a summer day). When Rosie’s heart is broken – something she realizes she has done to herself – she exacerbates her unhappiness with an even worse decision. Such is life! Rosie’s confusion, her denial and her flat-out refusal to even consider what her heart truly wants is frustrating stuff. But at its core, this is what Elfland is truly about: the struggle for self-acceptance. All of the characters grapple with personal integrity, hiding the truth of their selves under insulated layers of obstinate denial. For Rosie, it is the matters of her heart, while for her older brother Matt, it is his very Aetherial nature. These characters, though magical in nature, exhibit the same emotions of any lowly mortal creature; the only difference being that when a more powerful Aetherial struggles with personal demons (such as Lawrence Wilder), the consequences are ever higher. I loved each and every one of these characters; the innocent Lucas, the manipulative Sapphire, the headstrong Rosie, and, of course, the misunderstood Sam (I’m sure Sam has stolen more than a few readers’ hearts). Each character has a motivation, a history, and a full dose of realism and integrity. In short, I loved them all.
Elfland is a family saga. It is a novel of the struggle for self-acceptance over self-loathing, and the dangerous abandon of love over simplicity and security. At times the journey is painful and at times it becomes triumphant. Ultimately, Elfland is a fabulous, remarkable, literary modern fairy tale.
Absolutely recommended, and I cannot wait to begin Midsummer Night.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read a huge chunk of Elfland using Google Preview HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Here is the cover and synopsis for Midsummer Night, the second book in the Aetherials series:
A sensuous, suspenseful modern fantasy of love, betrayal, and redemption
Decades ago, in a place where the veil between our world and the world of the Aetherials—the fair folk—is too easily breached, three young people tricked their uncle by dressing as the fey. But their joke took a deadly turn when true Aetherials crossed into our world, took one of the pranksters, and literally scared their uncle to death.
Many years later, at the place of this capture lies a vast country estate that holds a renowned art facility owned by a visionary sculptor. One day, during a violent storm, a young woman studying art at the estate stumbles upon a portal to the Otherworld. A handsome young man comes through the portal and seeks shelter with her. Though he can tell her nothing of his past, his innocence and charm capture her heart. But he becomes the focus of increasingly violent arguments among the residents of the estate. Is he as innocent as he seems? Or is he hiding his true identity so that he can seek some terrible vengeance, bringing death and heartbreak to this place that stands between two worlds? Who is this young man?
The forces of magic and the power of love contend for the soul of this man, in this magical romantic story of loss and redemption.
Also, author Freda Warrington has an impressive backlist of titles that I have yet to check out! Anyone have any recommendations for me?
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly