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 (20 Nov 04)
I finished CLOSE KIN Friday and liked it but didn't think it was as good as THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. Charm did make one appearance. I like him (it?) so much that I noticed.--Edith (21 Nov 04)
I read CLOSE KIN, by Clare B. Dunkle, a couple of days ago and agree with Preeti. I enjoyed the book but don't think it actually had a plot. Each thread was fine but they didn't really braid together.
I expected the Seylin/Emily thread to be the main one but it lacked depth. I would have liked a bit more about them before the proposal scene--I expect the author knows what's been going on in the six years since the last book but we don't, although some bits are filled in later. However we do get some idea of Seylin's character--what sort of man (goblin, elf, whatever) tries to propose to a woman who is entertaining a group of children? I felt that the relationship was based less on love than on Seylin's infatuation and Emily's not wishing to lose a dear friend.
The Sable thread had much more depth and dominated the book. In this book we actually meet Elves, which really reinforces the message of the last book that beauty does not equal goodness, intelligence or kindness and that, correspondingly, ugliness does not equal evil, stupidity or cruelty.
I enjoyed the scenes between Marak and Kate--it was nice to see how they were getting on after seven years of marriage.
The last chunk was very strange--it came out of nowhere and led nowhere. My feeling on reading it was "this will lead to Trouble!" so I presume the trouble will eventuate in the next book. Which is rather strange, now I come to think about. If I can see trouble, surely Marak could as well so why didn't he do something about it? Perhaps, as was shown with his dealings with Kate's uncle, he doesn't have much understanding of what humans will do if really pissed off.
This book was enjoyable but uneven. More intensity in the Seylin/Emily relationship would have helped balance it.--Margaret (21 Nov 04)
Like Preeti, I thought this book was worth reading, but the characters weren't as compelling as THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. Since Emily and Seylin were too young and uncomplicated to be really interesting, I think they merely provided an excuse for Dunkle to tell Sable's much more engrossing story. The blurb misdirects us as to who the "main" characters are. I thought Dunkle did a good job showing how the two elf women overcame their fear of goblins, although I think it happened a little too quickly.
The ending was definitely tacked on to foreshadow the contents of the next book, and it made an unsatisfying ending. Those of us who are Dunkle fans would have read the next book without that ending. Not a good editorial decision, IMO.--Edith (5 Dec 04)
Margaret, I finally read your comments about CLOSE KIN today. Glad to see we thought it could have been a tighter story. As to your comments about beauty--which I presume are in response to my saying "I don't get this thing about elves and goblins and their notions of beauty"--it's not the message so much as the worldbuilding that must support it that I find to be unconvincing.--Preeti (4 Dec 04)
I'll be interested to see how she manages in the next book. Unfortunately I have a nasty feeling that, as a result of the gratuitous ending of this book, I now know more than I want to about how the plot's going to go.
I commented on beauty because I think it's an important theme of the series. In the first book the emphasis was that ugly doesn't equal evil or stupid. In this book it was that beauty doesn't equal good or intelligent.
One thing I found interesting was that, from the Goblin point of view, having even one drop of Goblin blood (as determined by a blood test) means you're a Goblin.--Margaret (5 Dec 04)
I thought it might be trying to turn the "one-drop rule" (where, in America, if you had even "one drop" of black blood, you were considered black) on its head, making the "one drop" test a tool of inclusiveness instead of intolerance.--Preeti (18 Dec 04)
Clare Dunkle's CLOSE KIN was pretty good, although not as outstanding as the first book. I think part of the problem is that the story is more fragmented, following several characters and not developing any of the characters particularly deeply.--JW (24 Mar 05)