Adventures in Elfland: Moth and Cobweb 1-3 by John C. Wright
Although published as three separate novels, Swan Knight’s Son, Feast of the Elfs and Swan Knight’s Son are one story divided into three books, so I will review them all together.
Do you look around and think, is that all there is? What happened to all the wonder of the world, its romance, its mystery? Well, the answer lies in these books. The Elfs stole them. They pinched the world’s wonders and all the best bits of the geography and hid them behind a mist of unknowing. Now this is an idea I have a great deal of sympathy with. Somebody certainly pinched it, and the Elfs are as good a bet as anyone else (although I suspect we mislaid it ourselves). These Elfs, while magical, supernatural creatures, are fay, Fallen creatures, the glamourous face of those damned forever to the Earth – which is probably why the Elfs are so keen on keeping all the best bits for themselves. (I could never get used to Wright using ‘Elfs’ as the plural form rather than ‘Elves’ but it’s probably done deliberately to distinguish Wright’s Elfs from Tolkien’s Elves.)
Into this world is pitched young Gilberic Parzival Moth, a human (well, mostly) teenager, with all the inflexibility of a typical teenager, and a mother who turns out to be, well, something not so human (given her irritating habit of answering every question with a riddle, she’s probably related to the Sphinx somewhere down the line). Gilberic becomes a squire, then a knight, mashing modern-day pop culture references with deep forays into mythology and folklore. If you like the idea of a more knowledgeable version of Percy Jackson, with fewer jokes but a more wide-ranging mythology, then these books might be for you.
There is some evidence of the books having been written in a hurry and edited loosely – too many typos and, at one point, Gilberic’s mermaid love interest warns him to keep her secret from his canine companion (who can speak, naturally) only for the warning to be forgotten 50 pages later – but the sheer wealth of invention I find hugely enjoyable. The story itself has the same dream-logic of medieval romances such as Orlando Furioso, where the heor passes into the great forest of story where anything can happen and usually does, with not much regard for likelihood or logic, but then, we’re dealing with Elfs here: everyday reality is optional for them.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable 21st-century take on the medieval romance.