Title: Dolor and Shadow
Series Title: Tales of the Drui
Author: Angela B. Chrysler
Date Added: June 16, 2016
Date Started: July 4, 2018
Date Finished: August 8, 2018
Reading Duration: 35 Days
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology
As the elven city burns, Princess Kallan is taken to Alfheim while a great power begins to awaken within her. Desperate to keep the child hidden, her abilities are suppressed and her memory erased. But the gods have powers as well, and it is only a matter of time before they find the child again.
When Kallan, the elven witch, Queen of Lorlenalin, fails to save her dying father, she inherits her father’s war and vows revenge on the one man she believes is responsible: Rune, King of Gunir. But nothing is as it seems, and the gods are relentless.
A twist of fate puts Kallan into the protection of the man she has sworn to kill, and Rune into possession of power he does not understand. From Alfheim, to Jotunheim, and then lost in the world of Men, these two must form an alliance to make their way home, and try to solve the lies of the past and of the Shadow that hunts them all.
I had started reading this before and Initially thought it was boring or the characters irritated me for some reason, but as I’d barely finished the prologue, I figured I’d give it another chance. The beginning quote is directly from The Poetic Edda, which I’d recently finished, and the novel itself if rife with Norse Mythology.
The prologue introduces two characters, a grandmother and her granddaughter who are elves or Alfar (as the story calls them) living on Midgard, and there are mentions of Alfenheim and Jotunheim, which are other locales on Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Gudrun, the elder, is telling the young Kallan about a war between the Aesir and Vanar with the latter on the losing end. I’m always down for Norse Mythology, so my hopes were high, but they had been as soon as I saw the title had “dolor” in it, which not only means “sorrow” in Latin, but is also used in the Advent Children version of “One Winged Angel,” which has been stuck in my head since I started writing this review.
Iram et dolorum…”
The title translates to “Sorrow and Shadow” so I was pretty stoked.
Chrysler obviously has extensive knowledge of both Celtic and Norse Mythology, as well as a love of history. I believe she makes reference to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, too with one character Bergen traveling to Egypt and falling in love with the queen there. He witnessed the burning of the Library of Alexandria (called Academia here), but I don’t think the author was attempting to put this story at any particular point in history with that happenstance.
Kallan has a power called Seidr (which I pronounced SAY-thur with no clue if that’s right/wrong), but her father’s high marshal Aaric did something to seal it away in order to protect the princess from Danann who not only would kill her, but also created the 90,000 refugee crisis that starts the book. Someone is trying to start a war between the Alfar (Kallan’s people) and the Dokkalfar, another type of elf, so yeah, it’s that type of novel with lots of fantasy names, though it’s not all that difficult to keep track. Like so many conflicts this starts with an innocent victim, a misunderstanding, an overreaction, then war. Hundreds of people on the other side were killed to avenge one death, and this can’t be left unanswered.
While keeping track of the different elf races wasn’t too bad, knowing when things happened was a little more difficult. At the beginning of the second part, there’s a thousand year time jump. The war between the Dokkalfar and the Alfar continues, but the children of the previous rulers have picked up fallen swords honed on lies and misunderstandings. It begs the same question as ASOIAF: when does vengeance end?
Kallan, now a war queen, is more than just a warrior. She’s a good ruler who knows what’s important. If her and Rune, the son of the Dokkalfar king, could have that necessary conversation where they hear each other’s stories, everything could be hashed out, but alas it never occurs (more on that later).
A bunch of plot happens that puts Rune and Kallan together, and this is where my side eye started to kick in. Kallan is kidnapped by Dvargar (dwarves but more in the Tokien sense not the Snow White one) who beat, torture, as well as threaten her with rape, and I’m just like…really? She, a war queen and battle ruler, is rendered utterly helpless and unable to defend herself until Ori, one of her captors, gives her a chance to escape and use her Seidr. She’s still recaptured and the abuse continues with increasing threats of assault by a dwarf named Nordri, and it was really uncomfortable to read. There was absolutely no point other than to give Rune a reason to rescue her and look like a hero, and this is hard for me to say and not feel like a hypocrite, because I did the same thing in my first novel. I think my saving grace is my female character wasn’t a warrior queen. She was portrayed as vulnerable from the get-go whereas Chrysler spent the entire first half of the book painting Kallan as this strong, powerful magic user who was so potent she had to have her abilities locked away lest she risk the wrath of a goddess, a war queen who inherited her father’s cause after his death (it’s the Sansa issue all over again…) All shes’ known is war and fighting, and Chrysler reduces her to a chained victim. Now, this isn’t to say something like this couldn’t have been accomplished brilliantly, but novels don’t exist in a bubble, and the idea of “taking powerful women down a peg” has a whole host of problem. I was hoping there’d be some other reason for including the Dvergar, but nope; they were only there to knock Kallan down and give Rune a chance to rescue her.
Then the author sees fit to seemingly forget that Kallan not only inherited her father’s war, but she literally grew up in a time of strife. Yet, she is almost cartoonishly ignorant of things. When she and Rune arrive at an army camp, she just wants to waltz right in when she sees a sign for naudr or “need.” Why wouldn’t she consider this is neither her land nor her people thus signs could mean vastly different things? Why would Rune need to remind her of that? How does she not know to be cautious in a strange land? It’s like Chrysler wants to portray her as an ignorant, little girl who is wholly dependent on Rune to guide her, and it’s utterly at odds with the prior portrait she painted. If Kallan had been sheltered her entire life, it would track, but she hasn’t and should have a nuanced understanding of politics, which is another thing. How the fuck does she not have a basic understanding of politics?
At one point Rune mentions something about the war in Midgard spreading to Gunir (Kallan’s kingdom), which makes perfect sense. It’s going to effect her realm, and Kallan would’ve been taught these political intrigues; it’s part of a princess’ education. The fact that she’s unconcerned makes her look like an incompetent leader, which is…fine? A good warlord isn’t necessarily a good leader (see Robert Baratheon of ASOIAF), but Rune was born in the time of war, too, and he understands this. It’s like the instant she runs away from him and is kidnapped by the Dvergar, she completely forgets all of her life’s lessons. Like really? She’s going to just walk blithely into a war camp. What the actual fuck? If she’d been portrayed as a sheltered princess from the jump, then of course it would be acceptable, but she’s given the role of “strong, female character.” She can fight with sword, shield, and seidr, and yet in the middle of the book Chrysler completely undermines her in such a sexist way. What makes this even worse is she’s been informed that men (Midgardians) are killing all those they find with seidr, and she’s not being careful to hide that she can use it AT ALL. I honestly just don’t get it. Chrysler is obviously a capable writer, but did a complete reversal of character competency when it was seemingly convenient.
We also need to talk about the chemistry or rather the complete lack there of between Rune and Kallan. Just like the latter’s competency, this is something else that withered away like yesterday’s lilies. When they first met there were instant sparks; however, they didn’t know who the other was, so there was that mystery about it. Had they known, they would’ve hated each other, and I think that’s what the author was going for, but there’s a subtlety missing. With the enemies to lovers trope, there’s usually some kind of denied desire between the two of them, but we see none of that. There’s just petty bickering and this contrived jealousy angle. It would make sense if the novel had showed the characters have anything between them, but it just comes off as them doing it because it fulfills the requirements. They only time they talk is to argue or when Rune is baiting her, and I hate the possessiveness he professes to another (male) characters. It’s just…icky, and Chrysler is showing their “like” through mutual jealousy, which is not only not remotely genuine, it’s also toxic.
There is no change in their relationship after Rune rescues Kallan, and that’s an issue. It doesn’t have to be a complete 180, but there is literally no difference in how either of them think or act. Did the author just stage that in order for us to see Rune in a good light? We already know his side of the story whereas Kallan doesn’t. As much as they’ve been sniping at each other, it’s baffling that Rune has never said, “All of this started because my sister was killed by Dokkalfar!”It’s never made clear why he doesn’t just tell her, and this leads into one of the most irritating tropes: when a inter-character conflict could be solved by one conversation that has no reason not to occur.
I wound up stopping around 84% because as I neared the end, Chrysler continued throwing in more characters from mythology as if packing the story with such figures grants relevance or cohesion. It just adds more noise and doesn’t address the plot or character development issues. Heimdall shows up at the end for no foreseeable reason. Why did Kallan have an image of him at that moment? Was that shoehorned in to tie in the Loptr (Loki) part mentioned earlier? The author obviously knows a great deal about Norse Mythology, and it seems like she was attempting a Tolkien maneuver by writing a novel that showcased her knowledge, but she sacrificed a lot of the plot’s integrity to shove all of these elements in there. The pacing leaves much to be desired after the two leads end up on the road together. It’s honestly a shame, because Chrysler clearly has a lot of knowledge about this subject; it just wasn’t executed in an efficient way.