So recently I decided to reread The Halfblood Chronicles, a series of fantasy books cowritten by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. I had read it years ago and enjoyed then, decided to give it another go and see how it held up. The answer is, surprisingly well.
Warning, this might get a little ramble-y
So quick overview: Some centuries ago Elves entered the world from a different world/dimension via a magic portal. Elves possess powerful magic that they used to enslave the native human race (who have a form of telepathic magic, that the elves also suppressed). Elves have difficulty reproducing, and so for a period they mingled with humans, creating the titular halfbloods which had a mixture of elven and human magic (and were equal or stronger than their elven parents). This led to a war that the Elves almost lost. Since then they have gone about brutally eliminating any trace of halfbloods. Oh, also, unbeknownst to everyone else, there are also dragons (from yet ANOTHER world) who have the ability to shapeshift. They use this to generally cause mischief among the elves, including the spread of a prophecy of the Elvenbane, a halfblood that was to destroy the elves.
That, of course, sets up for the first book, Elvenbane.
One thing that I was very impressed with during Elvenbane was how quickly the world was established. The first two scenes are as follows:
A human concubine is fleeing into the desert, pregnant with an Elvenlord’s child. She makes it to an oasis, where she drinks some water and passes out from exhaustion.
A dragon shaman is meditating in the form of a rock at an oasis, part of a ritual due to her pregnancy. She sees the human concubine arrive, and some part of her compels her to help the woman give birth. She then decides to keep the halfblood child.
That’s it. That’s all that actually happens. Yet, through thoughts and flashbacks, we learn vast amounts about the world. Something that I am always aware of is the delicate balance between tell the story and the “information dump” that can easily happen when trying to weave a new fantasy world. I think these opening scenes are a little more information heavy than typical, but Norton and Lackey handle it extremely well, and there’s something to be learned here.
Another thing that (especially the first book) drives home is the idea of coincidence. Or rather, the lack of that. Because when you’re the author, there IS no coincidence! Everything is carefully planned out, and although it might feel contrived in planning, on delivery it is very satisfying to see the pieces fall into place. [Spoilers] when I learned that Father Dragon was the Kalmadea from the journals that Shana had found I actually physically fistpumped the air, because that was a surprise and it fit and it felt great. Sure, sitting back, I could analyze it and say that the likelihood of an anonymous dragon centuries ago being the same one that helped Shana to live among the dragons and finally join her in the fight against the elves was extremely low, but in that moment reading it, it felt right.
Something else that I now appreciate a lot more than when I was younger, is that two of the three books feature a female protagonist. I especially enjoy the second one, Elvenblood. Partially because of it’s completely awesome looking cover
This cover is actually the reason I picked up this series
but also because the narrative focuses a lot on the development of Sheyrena, a young Elven lady with a huge inferiority complex. Brought up her entire life learning the “lesser” magics of the women, with an domineering father who sees her as nothing more than a political marriage-piece, she escapes with her brother into the wilderness where she learns her own worth, both in her ideas and opinions, and in the magic she possesses. The second book also has something that I did not remember at all the first time reading through. Black people! In a fantasy epic! And they aren’t even savages. In fact, it is directly noted in the book that, although nomadic, these people were highly sophisticated, managing to best even our protagonists. They fade into the background by book three, however, which is a shame in my opinion.
Book three focuses on a human-sympathizing Elvenlord named Krytian. I remember the third book being my favorite when I first read through them, but reading them again now, it felt the most boring and stereotypical of the set.
Gonna end here with some sad news I learned awhile back. This series isn’t finished! (which was totally clear from the ending of the third book, I have no idea how I didn’t pick up on that the first time. Whatever, I was 14.) The fourth book, Elvenbred has not, and likely will not, see the light of day, due to the death of co-author Andre Norton. (hmmm, perhaps that is why I felt less than happy with the third book? The first two wrap up all their major plot points, where as the third book leaves many of them open to be resolved in the never-released fourth)
Also, writing things! Part of the reason this blog has been so dead is because I am a painfully slow writer (short attention span more than anything), and I feel weird talking about things I’m writing before they’re done (or even after, I guess). But right now I’m currently working on a short story that stemmed from a joke book title I made during a session of the Sims. Long story short, I’m writing a story about lesbian space pirates and it’s kind of gotten out of control at 20 pages. Oops. Here’s an excerpt.
Sondra followed her mother’s gaze to the abomination staring back at her from the depths of that reflective surface. Her normally limp hair had been tortured and cajoled into a fluffy mass of dark curls that threatened to swallow her round face. The heavy swirling mascara was supposed to highlight the shape of her eyes, but she thought it looked clownish, especially in combination with the liberal application of her mother’s bronzer, which gave her already tan skin an unnatural golden hue. The corset was a deep green—almost black—and it was made to accent her curves, but at 14, these were nonexistent and all it did was emphasis the scrawny stick-like nature of her torso and limbs.