Published: April 2014 by Satalyte Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Talismans #1
Source: Satalyte Publishing
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015, Once Upon A Time IX
Available: Satalyte Publishing (electronic and print)
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Queen Ellyria just wants her sick triplet sons to live, each ruling over a third of the kingdom as their dying father wished. When she finds herself trapped in a deadly bargain with a Dark Spirit, she recruits a band of young mages to help – but a terrible curse takes over. The Dark Spirit befriends her enemies and seduces her friends, and Ellyria soon finds that famine, pestilence, betrayal and bereavement are all in its arsenal. Can Ellyria unite the elvish and mortal sides of her family and in so doing, save the kingdom?
The Dagger of Dresnia is a debut novel that is a little unsteady on its feet. On one hand, it is a fairly typical fantasy novel featuring humans, elves and dwarves. As others have, it touches on racism and the clashes between those races. When elvish Ellyria married her human husband, King Fairstad, the pair pretended she had arrived from a far kingdom rather than face the hostility that would inevitably arise when her origins were discovered. As a consequence, Ellyria was cut off by her elvish family and her sons grew up without knowing their true heritage. When the Dark Spirit’s plans begin to manifest, Ellyria does what she can to heal the estrangement between the two races.
I wasn’t entirely clear what the differences were between the elves and humans. Physically, pointed ears seem to have been replaced by a birthmark under the hairline, though the elves retain their longevity and affinity for magic. Culturally, there seem to be even fewer differences between the races. While this serves to highlight the arbitrary nature of the conflict between them, it also tends to oversimplify things instead of valuing difference.
The Dagger of Dresnia moves away from typical fantasy novel in its protagonist. Although the story is told from a couple of different points of view, the main focus is on Queen Ellyria. I know of few fantasy stories where the main character is a middle-aged woman. Ellyria remains young by elven standards and beautiful by human standards, but her preoccupations are very much middle-aged and about serving as a guardian for the next generation. This manifests both in her desire for her sons to peacefully rule the kingdom and her desire to pass along her magical knowledge to the younger elves.
However, age doesn’t always equal wisdom and Queen Ellyria makes some small errors of judgement that end up having big ramifications. I found this made her easier to identify with–who hasn’t tried too hard to push on when we’re exhausted or put off important conversations because we were too busy with other urgent things?
The book’s key flaw was its lack of nuance. Everyone was exactly who they appeared to be, which made it a little predictable in places. As flaws go, this isn’t unforgivable and I expect the subsequent books will improve.