11/28/2004 Entry: "CLOSE KIN by Clare B. Dunkle -- Pieces Better than Whole (Preeti)"
This story about goblins, humans, and elves in Britain in the early 1800s wasn't at quite the same level of Clare Dunkle's first book in the trilogy, THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. Taken bit-by-bit, it was delightful, but the pieces didn't come together as a whole all that strongly.
According to the book jacket, this is the story of bratty 18-year-old Emily, the little sister of the heroine in THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. She's a human who has lived in the goblin kingdom for six years now. When her goblin friend, Seylin--who is actually mostly elf in his genetics--proposes marriage to her, she thinks he's joking and ends up devastating him. Seylin takes off to find the remaining elves--his own people, he thinks. Emily then realizes she wants him and sets off after him. Both their quests allow them to grow up.
But the emotional heart of the book seemed to be in the story of the elf woman Sable, living a hard-scrabble life in the woods with her tiny band of elves. Most of the elves seem to have died out, and the ones who remain have lost most of their culture and magic and reverted to a comparatively primitive state. With elf birth magic lost, having a child is a death sentence for an elf woman. So Sable mutilates her face (in the book's prologue) to make herself repulsive to her prospective groom. Elves can't tolerate ugliness, so she's the most degraded member of her band. It's really her journey to happiness that's quite moving. Emily serves more as comic relief.
Like I said, I liked this book taken in pieces. Scenes of life in the goblin kingdom were a pleasure to read, for example, and the stories within the story were neat. Taken as a whole, though, this book didn't have a driving storyline.
As much as I liked Emily and Seylin, their arc felt rushed. Other characters I wasn't as interested in also get page space. Why? I guess CLOSE KIN was all about tolerance and respect, and maybe you needed a large cast of characters for the point to be made. I would have liked a more coherent plot, though, and less scattering of viewpoints.
And I still don't get this thing about goblins and elves and their notions of beauty. That and the notion of elf and human brides all still feel contrived to me. Seems like no one wants to marry the poor goblin women!
And then the tacked on ending ... What was up with that? It was like a cheap marketing trick to sell a sequel. I mean, it was a great scene but an annoying ending to a story. The impact of the scene was so strong that it diffused the memory of everything that came before. Anyway, the scene did its job; I'm dying to read the third book, IN THE COILS OF THE SNAKE.--Preeti