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Cross Elizabeth Hand with Fire and Hemlock, and you might end up with something like Freda Warrington's _Elfland_. This is the kind of big, sweeping modern faerie tale that you don't see often on the adult shelves anymore. There's been some beautiful work done in YA recently, but in the adult realm, the trend has been away from novels like this. And that's a shame. _Elfland_ is complex, rich, sensual, beautifully written, and sometimes heartbreaking.

I devoured _Elfland_. I carried it with me everywhere for four days, because I never knew when I might have a spare five minutes to steal a page or two. When I was at work, I looked forward to going home so I could read more. I read late into the night, every night. I was hooked. That, to me, is the surest sign of a five-star book: the complete inability to put it down unless I absolutely have to!

Our heroine, Rosie Fox, is of Aetherial (fae) descent, living with her family just this side of the Great Gates that divide our world from the Otherworld. Rosie's haughty neighbor, Lawrence Wilder, is the Gatekeeper, and as such, is supposed to open the Gates every seven years to allow travel, and a flow of energy, between the realms. As the story opens, however, he has shut the Gates, claiming a great danger lurks on the other side. Elfland follows Rosie, her family and friends, and Lawrence's family over the course of the next fourteen years. Fourteen years: long enough for a girl to grow into a woman, for loves to be lost and found, and for family secrets to explode. Long enough for some Aetherials to decide it's better to deny their fae nature, and for others to resort to desperate measures to reopen the Gates.

At its heart, _Elfland_ is about how denying one's true self is a sure path to disaster. It's also a love story. I usually don't go for romances in which the hero and heroine bicker, but Warrington makes the trope sing. Rosie and her eventual love interest get off on the wrong foot as kids, and the way their relationship develops seems painfully realistic to me, with the characters slipping back into snarky retorts because they're familiar, and because the retorts serve as an outlet for emotions more disturbing than anger. Both characters have a lot of growing to do before they're a good match for each other. _Elfland_ is, in part, the story of that growth, and of the sometimes wrenching mistakes made along the way.

When the plot moves into the Otherworld, Warrington handles the journey perfectly. It would have been easy to let the story get bogged down in travelogue here, to slow the pace down by showing the reader every single strange thing that populates the Aetherial realms. Warrington doesn't fall into this trap. She gives us a glimpse of how beautiful and how terrifying Elfland can be, but leaves some things to the imagination, and keeps the focus firmly on the characters' quest. This has a dual effect: it keeps the plot moving, and it allows the Otherworld to retain some of its mystery.

Overall, I loved _Elfland_. It's a sumptuous feast of a novel, filled with vivid characters, magical locales both earthly and Aetherial, and a complicated plot in which nearly every detail turns out to be significant in the end. I'll definitely be looking up Freda Warrington's backlist.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 24, 2009
"What a great book!" That was my first thought on completing "Elfland." It was one of those books that I would read far into the night, telling myself: "just one more chapter, just one more chapter..." until I couldn't even keep my eyes open. In a nutshell: it's unique, it's clever, it's funny and it's definitely not what you'd expect from this particular genre.

Probably best described as urban fantasy, "Elfland" concerns a community of people known as Aetherials. The Aetherials are physically indistinguishable from humans, and move between this earthly plain and their true home called the Spiral in another dimension. A Gatekeeper controls the way in and out, but at the start of this novel, the current keeper - Lawrence Wilder - has flatly refused to open it, claiming that there is something deadly on the other side. Some Aetherials believe him, others don't, and yet there's nothing that any of them can do considering that only Lawrence has the power to open it.

As year follows year, the Aetherials feel the inevitable entropy that comes without access to the rejuvenating powers of their home, and the latest generation grows up with no experience of their powers or heritage. Some are quite happy with this arrangement, wanting to embrace normality and the human world. But obviously, others are more interested in finding a way in...

Despite all the fantasy trappings, "Elfland" is predominantly a family drama, as most of the action involves the members of two specific families: the cold and wealthy Wilders, and the warm and loving Foxes. Between the two families exists a strange bond, not a "feud" as such, but rather an inability to keep out of each other's lives for reasons that only become clear when the dark family secrets are brought to life. There is a large range of interconnected characters based around the Fox and Wilder families: brothers, sisters, parents, children, stepmothers, friends, lovers - there's a veritable gold mine here of characters and their tumultuous relationships with one another.

The story stretches out over several years, with the younger generation growing from children to adults over the course of the story; changing, maturing and altering their opinions of life as they go. Although Rosie Fox is our main protagonist, the third-person narration moves from character to character, utilizing their different points of view. This means that we can get differing opinions on various issues and characters; for example when Rosie first sets eyes on Jon, we idolize him as much as she does - until we see him through someone else's eyes who can give us a more rounded view of him. This ensures that no one is wholly good or completely bad - as with almost everything in life, it all depends on your point of view.

I'm finding it quite hard to summarize the plot at this stage, since the story itself is so sprawling and filled with so many characters. Although it hinges firmly on the character relationships, there's always the sense of the fantastical element lurking at the periphery of your vision, and there are plenty of far-reaching plot details, all of which are recalled at the right place and time. In a book this long, you'd expect some plot-points to be lost or forgotten, but Warrington remembers everything, from an angelic painting in the attic to a crystal necklace and the scar it leaves. My favourite would have to be the appearances of the tree dryad: it pays to heed her warnings!

Usually I dislike loathing-into-love romances, (simply because they're never handled particularly realistically) but in "Elfland" this storyline works wonderfully. Neither one of the participants is perfect, and although first impressions between the two of them are just terrible, and though they spend the majority of the time divided by social obligations and problematic situations, you breath a sigh of relief when they finally reach an appropriate time and place for each other, only to start holding it again as yet another problem threatens them!

However, I am compelled to point out that there is adultery in this novel, something that always gets my goat when it isn't handled properly (glorified adultery being one of the reasons why I didn't really enjoy The Horse Whisperer; personally, I'd rather read about star-crossed lovers who do the right thing, than about a couple who give into desire and try to justify their actions afterwards). Warrington's treatment of the subject matter certainly isn't irresponsible enough for me to oppose "Elfland", since the direct consequences for the adultery are dire. Likewise, the participants feel guilty about what they've done, and take steps to fix the damage that they caused. But on the other hand, the third (wronged) member of the party is needlessly vilified and conveniently disposed of afterwards. I felt bad for him, more so than any of the other characters seemed to. When it comes to this sort of thing, it pays to bring your own moral compass. Some readers will find the fact that the lovers pretty much get away with their crime somewhat problematic and loose respect for them in the process, whilst others will shrug and think: "what's the big deal? It's only a book."

Furthermore, the concept of the Aetherials themselves is a bit vague. I got the impression that they were a superior race from another dimension, having powers of shape-shifting, a tendency toward lucid dreaming, and the ability to move between different plains of existence. But I was never entirely sure what they *were*, and at one stage, when they are held up as the source for humanity's stories of the Fair Folk, I wondered why they couldn't simply BE the Fair Folk, albeit in a contemporary setting.

However, both these issues are in no way detrimental to the plot (in fact, the adultery is *essential* to it), and more down to personal preferences and expectations as opposed to an actual flaw in the storytelling. Ultimately this is a brilliantly conceived and written novel that explores the many faces of love: whether it is platonic or lustful, passionate or peaceful, an temporal infatuation or a deep and abiding commitment to another person. Likewise, there is an emphasis on self-discovery: the longing for a normal life by denying one's heritage...or is it longing for one's heritage when trapped in a normal life?

In short, the best compliment I could give this book is that by the time I finally reached its end, all I could do was wish there was more of it.
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on May 19, 2013
Elfland is not at all what I expected. Don't be fooled by the cover. This isn't a magical adventure tale of some youngster discovering faery for the first time. This is a much richer, more adult tale more along the lines of how faery can twist people or change families along the lines of Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale or a darker Charles de Lint.

Elfland follows the fortunes of mainly two families in a small, English town. They follow the old ways, and are part of an ancient magic that the patriarch of one family has decided to shut off from the others.

The results of this decision trickle down through our ensemble cast. Matthew turns away from his otherness, and in doing so creates unbearable strain in his marriage, the two youngest boys find solace in drugs and dangerous rituals, and one brother bears the brunt of outside misuderstanding by going to jail. Finally there is Rosie, who seems to choose always the wrong man.

There is lovely tapestry of fey magic underneath the story, but as it mostly occurs in our world with problems that seem all too real (aforementioned drugs, family issues, abuse) I felt the magic layer was more of a setting than the focus of the story. Really the focus is on the families and how youngsters can feel cut off and adrift from tradition and then find their way back home.

But its a slow, richly-written journey, and not one to be zipped through or read looking for adventures and quests.

This Book's Snack Rating: Goat cheese on pumpernickel crackers for the rich taste of a magical village with the slight sourness of family troubles
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on September 16, 2012
I'm SO SO disappointed with this one! It's not right that a book with such a gorgeous cover tells such a dull, frustrating, soap operish story. Ugh.

Things actually started out okay, I liked the beginning when the protagonists are younger, just little kids really, and they can't stand the sight of each other -- in fact the whole story is about these two families that don't get along. They are not human, but some kind of fairy species, and they hate each other because one family is responsible for opening the 'Gates', which is the entrance to this otherworld, but they refuse to do it, while the other family wants to get in there.

This story is also contemporary, meaning, this was supposed to be some kind of epic contemporary fantasy, and I was so excited for it, but turns out it's more like a lame romantic drama where people sometimes speak of these things called 'Gates' and the 'Dusklands' (the otherworld).

Like I said, the beginning is quite interesting, but at some point the whole thing becomes this really bad soap opera episode, you know, when the girl likes the wrong guy, and for some stupid reason gets married with this other dude, just so a few days later she can cheat on him with yet another guy, but that's okay because her husband only married her for the family money, and OMG WHAT'S HAPPENING??? Seriously!? I kept looking at the cover just to make sure I was reading this same book I bought a long time ago because it had such a pretty Kinuko Y. Craft cover -- I WAS TRICKED! This is not at all what I was expecting!

And I kid you not, all I said before does happen in Elfland -- the female lead, Rose, falls for one of the boys from the other family when she's a little kid, and turns out he's gay, but she refuses to deal with it so she spends years of her life trying to make him to notice her, all the while sleeping with guys that remind her of him -- when she does get tired of chasing a gay guy, she decides to marry this other dude who she does not love whatsoever, but she says she wants a normal, quiet life, which I could understand if her life wasn't normal already. Okay, yes, her family is different and they aren't human, but THAT IS normal for her, so I don't get it. Anyway, she marries this douche and HAS SEX WITH THE BROTHER OF THE GAY GUY DURING HER WEDDING RECEPTION, WHILE WEARING HER WEDDING DRESS, AGAINST A TREE, and keeps having sex encounters with him when her husband is away, until the day he finds them on the bed and ends up crashing a car against a tree, leaving her a widow. And I didn't even mention her mother, who got pregnant from her husband's nemesis. Should I go on? Yeah, I don't think so.

I... I don't even know how I finished this book. And it's not that there's something wrong with the writing, no, but the concept of the story is just... so not what I was expecting. This soap opera, Fantasy? Please...
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on February 1, 2014
I am conflicted on this book and on writing this review. The writing is solid. The characters are well developed, imperfect, and interesting to spend time with. The setting is wonderful, a touch of England with a fantastical flare that is fascinating to read, it made me want to visit and linger. The concept is awesome, I love how Warrington created the Aetherials, explored their diversity, their similarity to humankind but also their sometimes marked differences, and the rivalry even amongst them between purists and those who’ve chosen to live on Earth. The idea of a people so connected to a place, a place so deeply a part of them that they ache when they can feel it no longer, cut off from it because of a great evil, was incredibly interesting to me. I even liked what that evil was and the resolution of that primary conflict of the story.

I enjoyed all the bits and pieces of the book, but I did not love the book, and therein lies the conflict for me in writing this review. The plot did little for me. Instead of reaching out of the pages, grasping hold, and yanking me in, I felt more like I’d waded into a slow moving (though warm and comfortable) river and floated slowly along without much to see but an overly blue (though quite lovely) sky.

I think the book might fit better with a reader who more enjoys romance with a hint of fantasy, as opposed to someone looking for fantasy but ok with a bit of romance. If you are looking for a well written interesting fantasy with a central theme of romance you will likely greatly enjoy this book. If you are looking for more fantasy it might not be a great selection for you, unless you just want to experience the very cool Aetherial world Warrington created within these pages.
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on September 19, 2009
I stumbled onto Elfland on accident...I had never heard of it and I usually do a little research before purchasing a hardcover book. The beautiful cover art prompted me to pick it up, but it was the praise from a couple of authors I really enjoy (Charles de Lint, and Tanith Lee) that actually brought me to the check-out. Best book I have purchased this year! It easily makes my list of favorites. Along with other reviewers, I devoured this book and simply couldn't put it down.

The world of the Aetherials is an enticing one, but the real reason this story stands out against the rest is the wonderful characters and the relationships they have. I feel like the fantasy genre can crank out the magic and world-building, but well done characters make the difference between a good idea and a great story.

I loved how family relationships, romantic relationships, and friendships represented--to me -- how they feel and what they mean during different points of the character's lives. Rosie Fox, our protagonist, learns to trust her instincts through trial and error. She finds love and loses it, and finds it again.

My one complaint....after I put down this book, I immediately went to look for more from Freda Warrington, but this is her first American release, which means all of her other novels are a little more difficult to get and some are very pricey. I hope Elfland's success will lead to re-prints here in the U.S. I am anxiously awaiting more from Warrington.
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on March 29, 2014
The book is great on its own without the description of the love scenes.
It doesn't need to have the love sections in there.
The book is good without them.
It's great to take the reader out of his or her own world.
Keeps the mind engaged easily.
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on December 19, 2013
This is a book that is entirely all-encompassing and almost impossible to walk away from. This series by Warrington is just fantastic...every one of the three books in this series will not dissapoint!!
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on November 9, 2009
we gave this book five stars...
dear lovers of faerie lore,
... but we'd like to give it seven stars. In fact, we bestow upon it the the Seven pointed Elfin star. If you took Charlotte Bronte and merged her with Jane Austin and brought her into the present writing in the Magical Realism style of Alive Hoffman about elves in modern Britain, you'd have this wonderful novel. It could be called a "tale of two families" for it tells of the relationships between the Wilders and the Fox family, who are both elven/aetherials, and upper class British citizens. There is romance here, and longing, and a beast that lurks beyond the gate to Elfin, for which reason it has been sealed and closed, creating protests among the Vaethyr, the elves on Earth/Vaeth. We could go on, but instead, simply read this book. No one's ever come closer to understanding the modern Faerie folk.
kyela,
the silver elves
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on August 19, 2010
I purchased this book based on the reviews I saw here on Amazon. I was not disappointed. I couldn't put the book down. I really enjoyed the main character Rosie and the world created by the author of the Atherials and how it is connected to the Earth. I am excited to hear there are more upcoming books based in this same world.

I don't want to give any spoilers away but experiences of the main character regarding unrequited love and forbidden romance was well written. At times I felt the intensity of emotions that were being experienced by the characters. The plot is creative and there is much more to the story than just romance to keep you entertained. I felt that the character development was strong throughout the book. Characters that did not seem interesting at first would suddenly come to life later on in the story and surprise you.

I also thought the cover art on the book was beautiful. I am a sucker for great cover art.

All in all I say this was an enchanting read and I look forward to reading more of this Atherial world in future publications.
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