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110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2008
Elfhunter by C.S. Marks is the first novel in the A Tale of Alterra, the World That Is trilogy. The second book is titled; Fire-Heart: A Tale of Alterra, The World that Is with the third book being titled Ravenshade: A Tale of Alterra, The World that Is. Ms. Marks is a new author and as such, I wanted to give her a chance. It seems all to often with the plethora of fantasy books being released, that if an author does not have a major publishing house, with a large marketing campaign it is rare they will get noticed by most readers. Here are my thoughts on this novel.

The main plot of this book focuses on a mysterious `person' who is seeking to single-handedly rid the world of Alterra of elves. A small group takes up the search to find and stop this threat to the elven people. There are also several sub plots woven into the story. Sub plots such as the malevolent Wrothgar and just what his plans are, the relationships between the elven people, the requsite love angle, and a surprising point of view from that of the horses. To name a few. This novel is rich in story and provides a deep feel of not only the characters and their plight, but also the richness of the world and setting. This novel single-handedly takes the reader to almost all parts of the world and introduces many things. Though this novel is rich and detailed in terms of plot, it does suffer at times from a slowness. It's almost as though Ms. Marks is writing a play and has interludes between acts. Some of the plot points are more clichéd then I would have liked them to be as well. I am a firm believer that just because one author does something one way, does not mean all books that follow must follow the same path. Ms. Marks does create some new things in this novel, and the plot is solid and for the most part interesting.

The characters in this novel, and there are many characters, are more clichéd than the plot. I can accept small clichéd elements in a plot, or small clichéd elements in characters, but I get frustrated when there are both in one novel. Some of the characters that you can expect to read about are Gaelen, Nelwyn, Gorgon, Orogond, Galador, and Eros. I will say this right away, one of my favorite characters in the novel was Eros. What a fun character with so much complexity, and he's a horse! I will even say I may have enjoyed his scenes the most. Ms. Marks shows a deftness of getting into the head of a loyal steed and just what he will do to stay by his master. There are times in the novel that I felt Gaelen and Nelwyn blended together and I had a little trouble trying to remember who was who. Also, in regards to the characters themselves, at times the dialogue didn't seem natural. I didn't have the sense that the characters all had unique voices, and at times there as too much dialogue. I would have preferred the story explaining things naturally to me, versus having the characters point things out. Gorgon, the main villain in this novel, is a solid character and adds a needed element to the story. He is just sadistic enough to be believable and one of those villains that you both hate, but root for in the same breath. While for the most part the characters are solid, I was not completely sold on all of them all of the time.

A couple minor criticisms about this novel:

1 - In the acknowledgement section of the book, Ms. Marks notes that this book is inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Ring trilogy. While this is the case for many fantasy authors, I would have liked to see this novel at more of a distance from Tolkien's work. Forging more of a name for itself, than following in footsteps.

2 - The way the dialogue is presented served as a distraction for me. It's hard to truly convey what I mean, but it is noted at the start of the book how it will be presented. It didn't work well for me and as such detracted from some of my enjoyment of the book.

3 - Lastly, it almost seemed as though this book explored too much of the world in one shot. Since this is a trilogy, there was plenty of time to touch on other areas of the land. At times the breakneck speed pulls away from the story because it leaves the reader wondering where are we going next, versus what is going to happen next. A subtle paradigm shift, but it was there.

Some positives about this novel:

1 - Have I mentioned the horses yet? I really can't say enough how much I enjoyed these scenes. Being in the head of a loyal mount, who is also a bit stubborn and mischievous is not only a change of pace from most fantasy novels, but a welcome one at that.

2 - The little things. Most authors focus the majority of their energy on the major things in a novel. It is quite evident that Ms. Marks also focused on the little things as well. Such as the horses, but also with things like history of the realm, that elves have an affinity for honey and can get drunk off it. Those little details, and many more, are what give the world its own uniqueness.

3 - The believability of a good solid villain. I have read some fantasy novels that make the villain too mean thereby making the villain not believable. In this novel, Gorgon's actions and motivations make sense for who he is. For me, he added quite a bit to the story.

Overall, this is a decent first novel by Ms. Marks. There was a mixture of things I really liked as well as a few things that I would have liked to have seen done differently. For a first time author, Ms. Marks does an admirable job of weaving a complex story. The similarities to this novel and the Tolkien novels, was at times too blatant for me though. Fans of Tolkiens novels may enjoy this novel quite a bit. Fantasy fans who may not be such big fans of Tolkien may want to do a little more research on this novel before embarking on the journey. While I was not blown away by this novel, I did enjoy it and will certainly be reading the next installment. I could also see this novel being appreciated by a younger audience as well. Such as the twelve to fifteen age type of reader who doesn't have the jaded view of fantasy that many well read fantasy fans seem to develop over time. All in all a solid effort.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2006
Elfhunter is the first fantasy fiction book I have ever completed, and I enjoyed it all the way through. I believe that what separated this book from others is that while many of the characters are of non-human races (elves, dwarves, etc.), they still act in quite human ways and are believably flawed (while retaining unique traits of their races). They all go through changes throughout the tale, believable reactions to the hardships they are facing and the things they learn.

And while the people in the book are very human, the horses in the book are very equine. I love the window into the mind of horses that C.S. Marks has given us in this book. While Eros's cunning may beyond the ability of (most?) horses, his motivations, reactions, and movements (like those of his companion Realta) are pure horse.

Gorgon is a fantastic villain. Not only is he a formidable and terrible foe, but he is also just as complicated as the protagonists, and the story of his past is just as intricate and formative as the others', or perhaps moreso.

There are a few magical objects in the world of Alterra, but they were made by and are used by very human characters, making them anything but simple and all-powerful. Magic is not used in this book as a simple solution to a complicated situation, to my relief.

The excellent characters in this book are brought together into a gripping story line which kept me up late at night reading and left me dreaming about the characters when I slept. When I finished the book, I was relieved to know that Fire-heart, the next book in the series, was already available for me to continue the tale.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Though you start Elfhunter believing you can easily compare characters with those from Tolkien's LotR series, you are quickly set to rights by the quirks and personalities of the individual characters. Even more fascinating than the main protagonists are the peripheral characters; especially the horses, Eros and Realta, whose spirited and intelligent natures charm humans, elves and other horses equally, and the dwarf loremaster, Fima, whose merry attitude and deep stores of knowledge add a captivating facet to the story. Of particular note is the antagonist, Gorgon. Initially terrifying, dark and shadowed, he grows into a creature to be pitied and put out of his misery. I look forward to seeing how much more he grows in the next book.

This book is a fascinating and compelling read; however, the author's near constant use of foreshadowing can be a bit tiring. The writing style is a bit stilted and formal at first but loosens as the book advances, so I look forward to the next books in hopes that the looser style continues there. Overall, this is an excellent addition to any fantasy reader's library and I look forward to the continuation of the series.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2006
I picked up Elfhunter on a Friday afternoon and finished it, after a solid marathon read, Saturday morning without ever putting it down. It truly captivated my imagination and Marks' clear, descriptive writing style created a movie in my head as I read. The heroines are strong and believably flawed, as is the outstanding villain, who evokes more pity than disdain. This is an outstanding premier novel, and I cannot wait for the sequel. Woot for Elfhunter!!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
C.S. Marks is an phenomanal writer with a C.S. Marks is a phenomenal writer. Elfhunter has everything that a good story needs. Strong characters being first and foremost. Having two strong female characters as the lead it takes a somewhat new take on the fantasy story. Being female myself, I can relate to them. When something happened to them in the story, I felt for the. The other characters are just as lovable and clever as the main ones. The antagonist of the story is deeply troubled and terrifying, but I found myself feeling for it. Not in the same way as the other characters but simply caring about what it was doing and what it may do next. In my mind, it is the best bad guy I have read of or seen in years. The writing style of C.S Marks is one that rivals the great authors of the science fiction and fantasy writing genres. The words flow so well together that it paints a picture in your mind and it is easy to get lost in this new captivating world. It is literally painting for the soul. I can only wait for the next installments. Until then I will try and keep sanity.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2006
I've read Elfhunter twice and I was never bored! Marks paints vivid portraits of her characters and the setting. I felt like I was pulled into the world of the Elves and that I was going on the adventures of Gaelen and Nelwyn with them. The character interaction was realistic and I felt connected to their emotions. Gorgon is an excellent villain, the embodiement of evil. He should be pitied but it's hard to feel any positive emotion for something so wicked! I can't wait for more books!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2006
This is a wonderful book that is extremely well written. The characters are well developed and very REAL. I felt I was there with them on their journey. Elfhunter has adventure, romance, and an exceptional villain. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down until I had finished it. I read it again, but more slowly, and it was even better the second time. I was then able to appreciate the skill of C.S. Marks in weaving countless details into an intricate tale. I am ready for the sequel.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2007
C.S. Marks has created a wonderful fantasy world with powerful and likeable characters as well as an overwhelmingly horrific villian. Although the story took a couple of chapters to grab you by the seat of your pants and pull you in - after it did it was impossible to stop reading. I am well into the third book (Ravenshade) and the story, characters and world just keep getting better and better. So well worth the time to pick up and read.

Well done Ms. Marks!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Elfhunter is a rollicking,romantic fantasy. There is a lot of action & twists and turns. I was carried away to a magical land full of great characters & people you would love to have as friends. The story centers on two elves, Gaelen & Nelwyn and a horrible Villian- Gorgon. Go on a wonderful adventure full of elves, dwarves,brave men, & read ths book!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2008
C.S. Mark's novel, Elfhunter, is strongest when the action is moving forward at a relentless pace. The first Chapter, "The Trail Begins", sets the reader on a long, oft-times exciting journey through Alterra, The World That Is. Here in the beginning, we meet two of the main characters, elven hunter scouts Galen and Nelwyn. Out one day patrolling Greatwood Realm, the kingdom of the Wood Elves, the two cousins discover the recently slaughtered and burned bodies of old friends. Upon seeing how they were tortured, Galen, the older and more driven of the two, will not rest until she has discovered the monster responsible for the murders. She brings Nelwyn along with her, using the elvish oath Thall-dalen, or Steadfast Oak, to signify her commitment to their quest.

Along the way, Galen and Nelwyn meet several brave-hearted individuals: the ranger Orogond, the High-Elf Galador, and the lore-master dwarf, Fima. There are others who they run across and for brief moments travel with, but these five are the principal characters beyond the main villain, Gorgon Elfhunter.

C.S. Marks' novel Elfhunter is compared to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy; however, Elfhunter is at its most engaging when it does not feel very Tolkiean. The pace always picks up when C.S. Marks manages to emerge past the Middle Earth influences and is simply being herself as an author creating her own unique vision. Sometimes there is so much similarity between Elfhunter and the Lord of the Rings that it becomes distracting from the story itself. Orogond sounds too much like Aragorn, both of whom are rangers with mysterious histories; Wrothgar the Dark One is a mirror of Sauron the Dark Lord; even the twisted villain, Gorgon, bares many of the same attributes with the wretched Gollum, as they both live underground, prefer darkness, and are tortured by a ring and its power over them.

However, when one looks past this light burrowing from the lore of Tolkien, one finds a nuanced fantasy world rich with Marks own personal imagination. Certain details stick out, such as the elves affinity for honey, which makes them drunk when eaten; and the Afterworld, where Galen travels several times along her quest. Some of the more interesting sections occurs when the P.O.V. takes on that of the horses Eros and Realta, ridden by Orogond and Galador respectively. It is odd, quirky moments like this that reveals much about Marks' own unique mindset. On the one hand, one may think that these P.O.V. switchs are probably unnecessary even though they add an essential flavor to the storytelling; at the same time, however, Orogond's steed Eros is one of the more complicated personalities in the novel, as he's an extremely intelligent, very mischievous animal so devoted to his master that he will do anything not to be left behind by him.

Though one feels a certain amount of energy in the characters, it is hard sometimes to tell many of them apart. Fantasy as a genre is more concept driven and less about characterization, and so a deficiency in well-developed characters is at times forgivable. However, it took more than half of the book before Galen and Nelwyn could truly be told apart, as they both are often described with the same words: independent minded, fiery tempered, and strong; both are excellent with bow and arrow, both move silently, and both basically have the same goal, and so the same motivation. At the end of the novel, I am still not sure that I know who either Galen or Nelwyn are, but I can at least point out different actions they've taken which helps me differentiate one from the other.

Ultimately, the villain Gorgon is the more interesting and most well-rounded individual in the story, and the novel is aptly named Elfhunter. He has the most defined motivations of any of the other characters, and a history that logically influences his present actions. In the last pages at the climatic final battle, Gorgon does something surprising yet realistic for his character, and readers will definitely appreciate this literary touch in this fantasy setting. Unfortunately, too many of the other people populating C.S. Marks' world feel like props meant solely to keep the action moving but with no true agency of their own.

Though Elfhunter has an engaging narrative, and obviously C.S. Marks is an excellent writer, there are some fundamental concerns with the prose itself. There are moments when Marks will build suspense with a genius touch, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Other times, however, she will tell you everything that is going to happen through exposition before it happens in the present moment, creating one too many anti-climatic scenes. Marks will exhibit fine pacing, such as when the heroes have their first battle with Gorgon, a truly superb scene. But then, other parts of the book will be rife with repetition, and the reader will hear the same back-story told two or three times through different P.O.V.s Particularly in the last hundred pages, when the action should be at its tightest, do readers instead get too much over-telling, as plans are relayed in detail by the characters to only be revealed again several pages later. This makes the last act in the book overly dense and at times laborious to read.

Overall, I am very impressed with what C.S. Marks has created. She has put great effort in the telling of this tale of Alterra, and it clearly shows. I would recommend anyone interested in fantasy to pick up Elfhunter, as it is an interesting, fun, engaging read.
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