What I gleaned about the story: Nuriel Lhethannien was given a simple mission by the king: to fetch an elf lord from his secret life in the modern world of men. But when that mission is waylaid by assassins, things begin to spin way, way outside the usual meaning of “simple.”
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Analysis: With a deep breath, Rie left the pretensions of the High Court and its glittering throng behind her. The portal stretched and squeezed, drawing her cell by cell from the hard marble hall into soft sand touched by gentle waves. This is how the book begins, but I could not follow what the second sentence was trying to tell me. It seems to describe some kind of teleportation, but my first read of “cell” was “small room,” which seemed to match the architectural tone of the surrounding text. Then I realized it meant a biological cell. Okay, but how was she drawn “into” soft sand? Was she transformed into sand? Is she buried in it? After reading a bit further, I got confirmation that she had indeed been teleported onto a beach.
I don’t think this is a case of the author trying to be intentionally mysterious. I think it’s just an unfortunate collision of ambiguous words and a not-quite-clear enough presentation. Anyway, I examined this for far too long—especially for an opening paragraph—and have to throw a flag on it.
Note: Two fractious pixies are arguing with each other and Rie notes: They were her friends, but sometimes she wished they would act like adults, rather than siblings. I pondered this for a moment. The sentence construction seems to suggest two opposed conditions, but adulthood and siblinghood are not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t quite enough to earn a flag, but it was another minor friction that makes it just another trifle harder to relax and slip into the story world.
Analysis: After emerging from some kind of teleportation spell, a woman and her two pixie companions arrive on a seashore, near some kind of fishing village. But two toughs are lying in wait, and attack her with knives. Her training takes over and she quickly dispatches one of the assailants with her razor-sharp sword. But as she is turning to face the remaining foe, she is taken out by a gunshot wound to the thigh. Hello? A gun? I don’t mind if this story has a mixed-technology setting, but you have to establish the rules of the setting before using them dramatically. Otherwise, it feels like the author has simply pulled something out of the air. Classic Deus Ex.
Think of it this way. The author is the reader’s eyes and ears. The conceit of modern narrative is that the reader is actually there, in the scene, watching things unfold. So for that conceit to hold, the reader must trust that the author is describing the relevant details in a timely way. Presumably, if there are guns in this world, then there have been other scene details that might have suggested this possibility. Maybe an outboard motor boat on the beach, or the sounds of a television playing from a nearby hut. But since I wasn’t given any such telling details, I continued to visualize the world based on the facts that had been provided—all of which said elf-fantasy world. So when the gun showed up in the middle of the knife fight, it wasn’t just a surprise weapon. It was a surprise redefinition of the entire world.
Details: Despite the issues noted above, I enjoyed the first scene. It drops us into a world and presents us with a bit of action while also painting some of the world into being as we go. Vampiric bounty hunters, pixies, and more than just a little gore to brighten up the scenery. It offered an excellent view into the world and the character while still maintaining a level of mystery.
Analysis: I had noticed one or two echoes earlier, but not frequently enough to trip over. Now, however, three separate pairs on one page finally pulled my attention out of the story. Two pairs of “She”-headed sentences, and then a pair of “He”s.