The Battle Sylph
Every now and then I read a book that I adore, but that I find difficult to describe without spoiling it for others. The Battle Sylph is just such a book. The plotting is good and the world created here rather intricate, but everything reveals itself in layers and the journey is part of the fun.
In Eferem, the upper classes of humans have bound sylphs to them. The elemental sylphs (earth, air, water, and fire) can be passed between masters and require no sacrifice to bind them. However, the much rarer battle sylphs held only by the very prominent can only be bound through the blood sacrifice of a virgin. Unlike the elemental sylphs, battle sylphs generally hate their masters but, having been bound, must obey them.
The author lays out a few of these rules of Eferem’s world through the eyes of a young air sylph master awaiting the arrival of a party who will be binding a battle sylph that night. Though it’s a bit of an infodump, it’s handled gracefully and helped me get my bearings in this world quickly. Readers will need this because the pace of the story picks up rapidly after the prologue and it never really lets up.
As the story opens, village girl Solie flees home to avoid an arranged marriage to a much older man she abhors. She has an aunt who lives independently in another town and she heads to the aunt for refuge. Along the way, she is kidnapped by the king’s men to be used as the next battle sylph sacrifice. Through a somewhat convoluted series of events, Solie manages to free herself and ends up with the battle sylph, Heyou, bound to her as they make their escape.
And here begins a real treat of a story. Solie and Heyou end up fleeing the king and taking up a most interesting quest, but to say more would ruin the story. As I read this book, I could hardly believe it was a debut novel. The writing is vivid and clear, and the worldbuilding fantastic. A few aspects of the manner in which sylph society was organized – such as who can take energy from whom – got slightly confusing at times, but nothing so bad as to pull me out of the story.
My main quibble with this book would have to be the romance. One can tell that Solie and Heyou are obviously attracted to one another. However, the romantic aspects of their story don’t get as much development as the rest of the plot. Given the intense nature of the story, this made sense, however, I would expect to see this book marketed as fantasy rather than fantasy romance. Still, if you go into this book with the expectation that you’re reading straight fantasy with romantic elements, it’s a very pleasing read. And another note on romance in this book: Certain aspects of the battle sylphs’ attraction to human women may bother some readers. For myself, I thought the author handled something controversial appropriately, but I can see where others might get upset.
Even with a few quibbles, I absolutely loved spending time in the sylphs’ world. When I got to the end of The Battle Sylph, I found myself wishing that the story could go on. Fortunately, the sequel is out in April and I’ve already pre-ordered it.