From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: The Betrayal

Before I even glanced at the first page of this novel, I could describe it with two words: vampiric elves. Courtesy of that wonderful advertising chain called word-of-mouth, I had heard quite the gossip about The Betrayal, albeit not particularly positive gossip. And after reading it, I agree with the word-of-mouth reputation — “crack-tastic,” but not in a good way.

The Betrayal begins with an aelven woman, Eliani, reading in a tree. Her peace is disturbed by the footfall of a lone aelven stranger—“tall, male, pale-haired” — who shortly engages her in a tensely polite confrontation. Each underestimates the other, as demonstrated at the banquet that night honoring Eliani’s confirmation as her father’s heir to lead their clan. Readers are then introduced to Heléri, Eliani’s mentor and the novel’s token Wise Old (Wo)man. Finally, as my patience for stereotypical elves dwindles, we flash across the mountains to Shalár of the exiled Clan Darkshore now known as the alben — the aforementioned vampiric elves. Cue plot.

Ironically, the vampiric elves were tolerably interesting with backstory and depth; Nagle does not demonize the supposed antagonist of the tale. I sympathized with Shalár, who is just trying to keep her people alive, and I’m compelled by the mystery of why certain elves become vampiric. There is room here to explore and become original, especially since the ending answers few substantial questions; unfortunately, I’m too disgusted by the “good” aelven storyline of Eliani and Turisan (the stranger) to continue any further.

Any commercial novel about elves will be cliché — just a fact. And given the word-of-mouth that I heard, The Betrayal is surprisingly readable. But as the story progressed, I only kept flipping pages so that I could learn more about Shalár. Eliani is your stereotypical, stubborn, graceless female aelven warrior, destined by the rare gift of mindspeech who falls in love with Turisan. But wait, this problematic set-up only worsens: Eliani was deeply wounded by a past lover so she has sworn herself to celibacy, turning Turisan into a patronizing patriarch who obviously knows best because the mindspeech — which is, of course, as powerful as in legend — ties them irretrievably together. And then, instead of cup-bonding for a year and a day, Eliani finally gives in by agreeing to a permanent, lifetime, irrevocable handfasting. I don’t care if their love is destined, that is just stupid. Did I mention that they’ve been in each other’s presence for less than two weeks? Even the sex scenes are boring; the instant-conception idea is ridiculous. “Greetings, and my thanks to you, Mother and Father.” Really?

So how did I manage to finish reading this book, and even in a reasonable amount of time? Because I was fascinated with Shalár, a truly independent female leader even as it breaks her heart — I loved the dynamic of her relationship with her consort, Dareth. The alben’s perspective of unjust oppression was worth the annoying omniscient viewpoint head-hopping; however, be warned that this book concludes only with Eliani and Turisan’s destined love and absolutely no satisfaction concerning the alben. Stylistically, the prose is far from stellar but redeemed by smirk-worthy lines like this one: “Lord Jharan held out a parchment sealed with the ribbons of all the realms attending the Council, so that there was scarcely any paper to be seen beneath them” (281). Overall, though, Nagle takes herself too seriously and happily follows four stereotypes for every one that she manages to subvert. The Betrayal (what betrayal, exactly?) remains a tad under unexceptional, hovering on the border of just-plain-bad. As much as I care about Shalár, I can’t stomach any more of Eliani and Turisan.

Lisa Bao is an aspiring writer, amateur reviewer, and expert reader who loves genre fiction for the extra depth (beyond that of silly mainstream “literature”) of otherworldly alienation. She was born in one country, is a citizen of another, and has currently resided longest in a third. She also maintains an informal booklog at a top-secret location and considers herself perfectly unqualified to criticize—thus, who better to be a critic?

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