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Summerlark Elf by Brandon Draga

Summerlark Elf by Brandon Draga
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Book Name: Summerlark Elf
Author: Brandon Draga
Publisher(s): Self-published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: March 15, 2014

An elf with a mysterious background? Check.

A Halfling with a less than reputable profession? Check.

A half-elf with parental issues? Check.

A dwarf with a pickaxe? Check.

All of them coming together to form an adventuring party? CHECK!

As an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and DM in my youth, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audiobook of Summerlark Elf by Brandon Draga, narrated by Sandra Collum. In many ways, with its colorful (and borderline stereotypical) cast, and snappy dialog, it reminded me of my two favorite obscure D&D-to-novel indies: Joe Duck’s The Codex: An Angel’s Guide to Seducing a Human; and Henry McCulloch’s Sneakthief.

Like these stories, and others within the sub-genre, the central conflict of Summerlark Elf starts off innocuously enough to get a band of characters assembled, before events cascade into a larger plot. It might not be as grand in scope or as beautiful in execution as say, Dragons of Autumn Twilight; but it is a respectable showing for a debut indie novel without the backing of a major gaming company.

Bucking the modern trend of Limited Point of View, yet keeping with old-school D&D-based books, Summerlark Elf uses the Omniscient Viewpoint. It took me a while to reacquaint myself to the switching between the heads of the characters within a given scene, but the omniscient narrator’s voice remains consistent enough that these brief dips into their minds don’t make me feel like I’m trapped in a Michael Bay movie.

Where Summerlark Elf shines is the character chemistry: Enna Summerlark is an elf born to a dying woman who is in a land unfriendly to fae folk, and adopted by Randis and Tessa Summerlark. They cut the tips of her ears off to hide her heritage, and raise her as their own. The author captures the family dynamic through fun banter, all the while foreshadowing that Enna will sooner or later learn that she isn’t a human (spoiler: sooner).

Equally enjoyable are Halfling thief O’doc and half-elf bard Erasmus, a dynamic duo engaged in nefarious activities like smuggling, yet guided by something of an honor among thieves. They don’t kidnap, and they have standards of not exploiting the weak and innocent… at least until Halfling Were-Rat Mob Boss Lannister Ravenclaw (whew, had to catch my breath just typing that, and it is just as amazing as it sounds) makes an offer they can’t refuse (the Don Corleone type of offer): find and recover an elf passing herself off as a human.

When given the choice between a windfall payday, and getting on the bad side of the River Rat Guild… Yeah, you can see where this is going.

Or so you think.

Rounding out the motley crew is Adrik, a dwarf merchant who clearly knows more about Enna than he lets on.

They all meet on market day in Hallowspire, a major city unfriendly to the fae folk because of the murder of their King and Queen by magic years before. Everything goes downhill quickly, with all the four main characters pair up, split up, and re-form pairs throughout the story, their growing and evolving relationships smoothly shown through clever dialog.

The plot is well-seeded from the get go, though it becomes more intricate to the point of being a little too complicated by the end. What starts as a plan to kidnap Enna turns out to have deeper repercussions, affected not just the kingdom, but perhaps the larger world, as well. There are three more books in the series, after all.

While the plot might be complex, and suggests decent worldbuilding on the political, organizational, and cultural level, the other aspect of worldbuilding did not come off as particularly unique. Races fit within the standard D&D framework: orcs, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, bugbears, and lycanthropes all make appearances. The author describes the elves’ magic system, but doesn’t go in depth with how bard magic works.

The writing, itself, did not stand out to me as being either too simplistic or elegant. While the aforementioned omniscient narrator’s voice is distinct, there are a few issues. The story could stand a little in-line editing. What really jumped out at me were the echoes of some words (“shape” stood out to me), oftentimes occurring four to five times within two paragraphs; as well as synonyms for “said” that feel a little forced in an attempt to avoid those echoes. Finally, after the climax, the denouement lingers a little too long for my tastes as the author sets up the sequel.

As a whole, Summerlark Elf is a lighthearted, fun story that kept me entertained from pure nostalgia. As a reviewer, I will level up Mr. Draga to 3rd Level Bard. On my purely objective scale, I rate it a 7.777777.

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