Saturday, May 4, 2024

L.J. McDonald - The Battle Sylph

He is one of many: a creature of magic, unrelentingly male. He is lured through the portal by pure female beauty, a virgin sacrifice. She is killed, and he is silenced and enslaved.
Such a dark ritual is necessary. Unlike their elemental cousins—those gentler sylphs of wind and fire—battlers find no joy in everyday labor. Their magic can destroy an army or demolish a castle, and each has but one goal: find his queen, then protect and pleasure her at any cost. What would a maiden do if she were given such a servant? What would befall that kingdom foolish enough to allow a battler to escape? Young Solie and the people of Eferem are about to find out.

Comment: One more title which had been on the shelf for years, although this one I have not written down when. It's yet another PNR story which I bought in the hopes I'd love the world and would want to keep up with the series.

In this fantasy world - I say this is PNR because it does have paranormal elements, but it's more fantasy oriented - some people can have sylphs, which are beings from a different dimension and sometimes they can be summoned up in certain rituals. There are many different types of sylphs and they can take up different shapes, but the most dangerous are the battle ones and it has been known that men are the ones who could control them, usually after a terrible ritual. 
At one such event, a new sylph is being summoned for the king's son and Solie, the young virgin girl about to be sacrificed to make it happen, suddenly tries to defend herself and the summoning goes awry. Somehow, Solie manages to bond with the sylph, names him Heyou, and they run, leaving chaos behind. Now they need to protect themselves but also understand what happened, something everyone would not believe could be possible... but as they go along, Solie and Heyou find others who might have answers. Will they be able to learn everything before the king's men find them?

I will have to say I was very positively surprised about this book and how much I liked reading it. I say this because after some disappointments with other books in the genre, and the fact I've kind of moved on to prefer different types of books nowadays, that this one was so appealing was quite the good surprise after all. I especially liked how so much of this story is about world building and how entertaining it was to see what would happen.

The story is fascinating and does prove the author had quite a clever idea. In this world humans can summon up the sylphs and they can be as handy and helpful as air or earth or fire sylphs who help with everyday tasks, to the battle sylphs, known to be aggressive and powerful. Usually these are meant for men with some importance, linked to the military and such, or aristocrats. Not everyone knows how to do this, nor would be allowed to, so to have a sylph can be quite prestigious. However, the sylph comes at the price of a death, for that is how they can be bonded and controlled, or is it?

As the plot moved along, certain things were developed and explained and we learned that most characters we initially met didn't have all the answers after all. I loved the fact things aren't so black and white and that this wasn't so superficially a story about good people vs bad people. I also liked how the sylphs aren't just mindless creatures, they have a voice, they have a "soul" so to speak and the ritual that binds them isn't as strict as it is described at first. In fact, I loved the fact the major battle sylphs we know in the story had a voice and we could understand what they felt about many subjects.

Basically Solie, the heroine, unknowingly rescues Heyou from a life as a slave and they bond, and later one he makes her his queen. I saw this comparatively with the bee hives - that word is even used too - in which a queen is revered and helps maintain the peace, the control and so on, and Heyou is her sort of concubine/protector. To be fair, it's a little bit more complex than this, but the author managed to give sense to this idea and for the world to be interesting, even more so with all the secondary characters, many of which with a POV we also follow.

Perhaps the element that kind of disappointed me the most is the fact Solie and Heyou read as young (she is 17 if I remember correctly and sylphs have no age, I guess) and that meant their decisions and thoughts read as too young and juvenile. I understand the concept but I would have liked them to appear older, because many plot situations would have seem stronger options then. Thankfully, they have other characters around to help and, like I said, with POVs of several, this was quite an engaging read for me, although I can see how other readers might feel it is confusing.

While Solie and Heyou and other characters learn about what happened, and we peel off more layers about this world and other situations, the king wants revenge for the failed summoning, and they are chased. The final part of the story ends up well enough, and the "bad guys" are defeated as I hoped. I was also delighted over what had been shared regarding the future for most characters, how Solie and Heyou and their new family were practically a community now. I think that even taking into consideration the less interestign elements or the less achieved scenes, this was mostly a complex and intriguing world.

I was quite impressed with how humans and sylphs could kind of help each other by the end, even knowing some humans might want to simply enslave sylphs anyway. I'm now a little scared of reading more... I feel quite a satisfaction on how this was done that I fear the next story or all of them afterwards will be frustrating and if so, should I stick to this and keep the good impressions? But now I'm curious to know about what will the live of a secondary character be and will there be a HEA... decisions, decisions...
Grade: 8/10

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