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Monday, July 13, 2009

Elske by Cynthia Voigt

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Copyright: 1999

Page: 312
Rating: Rating 4 1/2 Crown

Two Women

Elske -- a girl with no future, until her grandmother's sacrifice saves her from certain death

Beriel -- an imperious princess, determined to claim the kingdom that is her birthright

Fate brings them together, both exiles, one servant to the other. To Beriel, the mistress, Elske offers steadfast loyalty and courage -- hard to come by in her dangerous quest to regain the throne she has been denied by treachery. To Elske, the handmaiden, Beriel's proud example provides a perhaps even more precious gift -- the strength to find her true self.

To be clear, Elske is the fourth book in Cynthia Voigt's loosely tied together series called The Kingdom. The other three (Jackaroo, Wings of a Falcon and On Fortune's Wheel) are all set in the Kingdom that Beriel hails from, while Elske is set in Trastad, a small country to the north of The Kingdom. You don't need prior knowledge of the other books, except perhaps to understand the truth behind the 'legends' that Beriel mentions. The legend of Jackaroo for instance is covered in depth in the book of the same name, while some of Beriel's ancestors are covered in On Fortune's Wheel.

This can be a little dark at times with some of the subject matter. Elske's people, the Volkaric (Wolfers) are a barbaric, primitive people who live to eat, plunder and worship their leader the Volkking. The only place a woman has is to satisfy their needs--whatever they happen to be. Her grandmother however was from the South and was resigned to her fate, Elske was her joy and treasure. When she was chosen as the Death Maiden, to be a sacrifice for the Volkking's Death, something snapped. Idle no longer she schemed to save Elske and in doing so get the revenge she should have sought years ago.

And thus does our story start. Mirkele (Elske's grandmother) is preparing Elske to run away, and Elske (barely thirteen years old) stoically faces her newfound freedom. By chance she happens upon Tavyan and his sons as they traveled home and by chance she became Beriel's handmaiden. Two exiled souls in a city that alternately reviled them and tormented them. Beriel's story is also a sad, dark tale we don't learn for many chapters, but suffice to say they both needed each other greatly.

I love this book, I have ever since reading it in college that idle tuesday afternoon. It's a very different fantasy from what I was used to at the time (there's no magic or monsters), but captivated me with its thoughtful plotting and pace. At its core Elske is about two girls who were cut off from everyone and everything they understood, who band together to grant their hearts' desires. This isn't a fast book or flashy book, its not horrifically violent or filled with drama. Like many of Voigt's other books its a character study.

The book itself covers roughly three years altogether (with an epilogue discussing the after effects), charting the progress of Elske as she learns to adapt to her new life and Beriel as she plots to take back her throne. Beriel isn't an easy person to get along with--she's short tempered, vindictative and can be very cruel. A lot of her ire turns on Elske herself--you always hurt the one you love most right?--but Elske is the perfect target almost. Raised by people far more cruel and heartless then Beriel, she stoically takes what Beriel lashes out at her and then carefully helps her pick up the pieces.

This is dramatic storytelling at its best in my opinion--proving that sometimes the one with the quietest voice is the one with the most to say.

Duchess of the Dark

8 comments:

Blodeuedd said...

I remember reading this book and really liking it. But i couldn't stand Beriel, I do hope I am right when my memory says it ended good cos there was something, hm

Lexie said...

Yeah I wasn't too keen on Beriel the first few times I read it either, well to be truthful I would still probably push her down on the sidewalk if I met her, but I appreciate the balance she brings against Elske's lack of emotions most of the time.

Ah the end. I suppose it depends on if you mean the end of the story, or the afterward that describes the events stemming from the decisions.

J. Kaye said...

I have heard a lot of really good things about this book. I've been meaning to get it, but...well, you know how it goes.

ibeeeg said...

Love the blog header.

I have not heard of this book prior to your review.

It sounds like a book for me.
I know you said that it is not necessary to read the other books first but let me ask... Do you like the first three as much as you liked this one? I would love to start with this book but have a hard time starting in the midst of a series. KWIM?

Lexie said...

J.Kaye--oh yes I know how it is indeed XD

ibeeg--I'm the same way. Its why I like waiting for series to either be over with or about 4 books deep to get into them (or I try to anyhow XD)

I enjoyed On Fortune's Wheel (Book 2) the next best, with Jackaroo (Book 1) coming in third and The Wings of a Falcon (Book 3) coming in last place. That's just the publication order however, if I remember correctly that's not how they actually 'go' timeline wise. I know that Elske is clearly the last one timeline wise, but otherwise I'm not certain of the others.

The good thing about the Kingdom novels is that none of them spoil the events of the others for you--everything is pretty self-contained and the events of the other novels are the 'myths' mentioned in each. Such as Jackaroo, or the legend of how the 'Wings of a Falcon' (mentioned in Jackaroo and possibly On Fortune's Wheel) inn got its name. The events of On Fortune's Wheel are mentioned by Beriel because they are directly related to her family history, but she only talks of them in the most general of terms because it happens generations ago.

That might be too much information sorry XD

Teddyree said...

A very interesting and in-depth review; not an author I've read before.

Teddy Rose said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the cover the same book cover used for The Girl With a Pearl Earring?

Lexie said...

Yes it is Teddyree! Its actually a good representation of Elske though in her role as a handmaiden--the other three books have several different covers from each different imprint's printing tho