A is for Älvor by Laura Bingham

Today is the first day of the monstrous A-Z blogfest, and it just happens that today I finished a book that starts with the letter A, so here we go!

Älvor is the story of Erin and Bain, twin siblings who discover a mystical cabin in the woods near their home. After a little investigation, and a few interesting encounters, they learn that they are to train to become alvs, or elves. After training, they are inducted into a magical world and a whole new community, but they aren’t there long before Bain goes off on his own, and it’s up to Erin to track him down.

This book has some great aspects to it: I could certainly see everything that was going on, and in a fantasy novel, that’s not always true with me. Secondly, aspects of it were quite original, or at least turned on their head in an interesting way. Erin and Bain were both interesting characters, and most people could probably relate to one or the other of them.

That said, there are a lot of things here that could have used some more work. In fact, something that kept running through my mind as I was reading was how I’ve heard a lot of agents and authors say that in order to get published, you should write a whole novel from beginning to end, then put it in a drawer and write a new one, and likely the second one will be better, because you’ve learned the process already and aren’t grasping around for it like you do in your first. Then sell that book. And then, if you want to, go back to the first novel and fix it up and work on it again.

Obviously that isn’t true for all writers, but I felt like maybe Älvor could have benefited by this advice, or at least from a few more beta readers. There were a lot of places that just didn’t quite hit the mark like they should have, or more to the point, could have. This book had a lot of potential, but I feel it was underwritten. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, a lot of info-dumping that could have been related through actually going through the scenes, instead of summing them up later, and in general it felt a little rushed, like the author was taking the easy route and handing ability over to her characters, instead of having them earn it.

My main concern with the novel, though, are Erin and Bain themselves. They were meant to be fifteen years old, turning sixteen in the course of the novel, but they were written much younger, to where I was imagining them being twelve or thirteen, at most. Once in a while a comment would be thrown in that reflected the ages they were supposed to be, and I was completely jarred out of the story for a second. I had two versions of Erin and Bain in my head—the younger ones, who read like their own age, and the older versions, who I forced my imagination to come up with.

I was also a little disappointed with the kids themselves. Erin had the potential to become quite the hero in this story, but instead she spends a whole month being heartbroken and feeling like she’s nothing because her brother left her—this is as bad as Bella going catatonic just because her boyfriend broke up with her. Not the best message to send to kids. I wanted Erin to realize that she could be her own person and that she could save Bain because he needed to be saved, but instead she wasn’t even particularly worried about her brother—just selfishly wanted him back, as she says herself.

I… don’t know what to do with that. I can’t understand anyone losing all contact with a close family member for an entire month or more without worrying even a little bit what might have happened to them. Even when Erin does move forward with looking for her brother, also, 95% of it is done by others and handed to her. She falls for another elf named Joel that becomes her friend, when really all we get about him that’s anything at all attractive is—that he’s attractive. In their first encounter Erin is bored with him, and there’s nothing to talk about until she admits she wants to find Bain—then that is all they talk about. Suddenly Erin is blushing around him and being self-conscious, but why would she, if they have nothing in common, something she also said herself?

Joel is helpful, though, certainly. He knows the ins and outs of the elf world, and is able to like I said, hand information to Erin on a plate. Joel doesn’t even do most of the work himself, there are mysterious, amorphous groups of techie elves that belong to the community that do the work for them.

Really, I think this book played it safe in a lot of ways, ways that robbed the book of being as strong as it could be. Middle-grade readers would probably enjoy the book, but I didn’t very much. The sequel comes out in just a few days, but I don’t know that I’ll be going to track it down… still, I wish the author the very best.

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