“Enna Summerlark has spent her entire life as a farmer’s daughter in the kingdom of Hallowspire, paying little mind to anything past what to sell at the next market day. When the next market day comes, however, strange events take place that will reunite her with an old friend, bring her into the world of a pair of sell-swords, and reveal a secret that will change Hallowspire forever, and cause ripples across the whole of the Four Kingdoms.”
Enna – A young Elf, left with human parents after her kind-hearted adoptive father sheltered a pregnant Elf who passed away under his care. She is unaware of her heritage, a decision her adoptive parents made for the sake of her safety.
Randis – Enna’s adoptive father, a good man with a strong sense of duty and honor, and a deep love for his family.
Tessa – Enna’s adoptive mother, a worrier with a warm disposition and a friendly, open nature.
Erasmus and O’doc – A sardonic Half-Elf Bard and a Halfling thief respectively, the pair are a morally grey duo for hire as spies, smugglers, etc.
Lannister – Leader of a shady guild named the River Rats, with agents throughout the Four Kingdoms. They make excellent spies due to the ability to shapeshift into rat form.
Adrik – A kindly and rather erudite Dwarf Enna meets at the market who leaves a lasting impression.
The Summerlark Elf is a warm and charming YA novel that draws on traditional fantasy tropes and doesn’t rely on overly complex plots and worldbuilding. Instead, it concentrates on telling a good natured yarn that put me in mind of the type of stories I enjoyed most when I was growing up – not groundbreaking, but kind at heart and populated with characters who I’d have desperately wanted to be friends with. In my mind it gets a big +1 for featuring parents rather than having the main character be an orphan for the sake of convenience alone. It’s refreshing to see a main character have this loving influence and it’s very much reflected in Enna’s character – she’s a sweet girl with a strong sense of self, she’s confident and curious and I liked her immediately.
Elsewhere, Erasmus and O’doc are a morally ambiguous duo who are recruited to track down an Elf woman in Hallowspire – it’s a big job and they’re offered an obscene amount of money to complete it, so they’re not inclined to ask too many questions. Unbeknownst to them, this goes way higher up the chain than they could imagine.
The plot and world are heavily influenced by a number of existing fantasy works, but somehow Draga pulls it together into something very enjoyable and despite a lot of familiar tropes it’s very easy to switch off and drift along with it. There’s enjoyable prose with a nice turn of phrase, distinct characters, a nicely paced plot and some genuinely amusing dialogue. My 12 year old self would have absolutely loved this, and as it happens, my approaching-middle-age self rather liked it too. I was especially tickled by the portrayal of the Halflings as sneaky little buggers rather than the more obvious Tolkien approach where they represent the moral compass of the world.
That’s not to say it didn’t have issues. It does lack originality and for some readers this may be a problem. The name Lannister Ravenclaw was… possibly not the best idea ever. Being a bit of an etymology nerd I wasn’t a fan of the use of “lycanthrope” to describe the were-rats since it literally means “wolf man”. It’s a simple tale and at its heart it is unabashedly YA (although there is no reason it shouldn’t be), which is a turn-off for some readers. However, for young readers this would be an excellent introduction to fantasy, and for adults who just want to switch off and read or listen to something pleasant, I’d definitely recommend it. The audiobook is rather good, with a strong performance by Sandra Cullum – her voices and accents were nicely done, and she’s a very good narrator. It’s rather short at 6 hours long, however the audiobook is heavily discounted when the (inexpensive) eBook has been purchased so I’d recommend going that route rather than spending an audible credit. Overall, I found it to be a lovely distraction on a dreary afternoon – I’ll likely listen to it again if I find myself in need of a pick me up, and I grabbed the eBook for the second entry straight away.