Review: The Battle Sylph (Sylph series #1) by L. J. McDonald
Captured to be used as the sacrifice in a terrible ceremony to bring over one of the feared battle sylphs, Solie is not about to just give up and die. Through a bizarre turn of events that starts a chain reaction of pivotal events, Solie becomes the battle master and, together with her new battler, sets out only to run and survive and inadvertently begins to change everything about her world, how it works, and who’s in charge. This first book in the Sylph fantasy series by L. J. McDonald is the start of something special, with overarching themes of rising above who we are told we are to become what has always lived inside of us. The Battle Sylph is a GraveTells recommended read!
- Title: The Battle Sylph
- Series: The Sylph series – book #1
- Author: L. J. McDonald
- Prominent Characters: Solie, Heyou, Leon, Ril, Mace, etc (ensemble cast)
- Recommended reader age: 15+
- Sexual content level: Light
This story is best experienced as a journey. Try to go into it knowing as little as possible. Stop reading reviews, blurbs, snippets, and even interviews. Pick it up, crack it open, and immerse yourself in the land of L. J. McDonald’s imagination. This is not Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy – it is high fantasy without the “high”, magical without the magic, the first book in a gripping somewhat-new series that has the potential to be epic. There are no outright spoilers in this review, but if you prefer to read it as I’ve just recommended, completely new to the world and characters, stop right now and come back when you’re done! If you want to know a little more about the world of the sylphs, read on…
The Battle Sylph is an emotional roller coaster that just keeps picking up steam. It has some slower spots, where new, less high profile, characters are introduced, and some parts are a little predictable, but you know they’re always trekking toward the goal and you’re impatient for them to get there and everything to be okay. The battlers quickly transition from the lethal monsters you fear and hate to the underdogs you pity and root for, and slowly become more and more attractive until they are the focus of the story. The characters are vivid and no one is too similar or too unbelievable. The battlers are deeply compelling and the humans are gritty and real.
All sylphs are slaves, enthralled against their will, but the battlers have it the worst, and their miserable existence is heart-breaking… and then there’s Heyou. This young battle slyph with the comical name is one of the central characters and a fount of youthful vitality and boundless optimism. What I really like about Heyou, other than his shameless sense of humor, is that Ms. McDonald doesn’t try to make him into some kind of superhero or ladies man. He’s not a sex symbol or an uber strong hero – he’s basically a teenager with really scary abilities… and a very active sex drive. Actually, that’s all the battlers – they claim that all they’re made for is fighting and… well, you know. I also really like this aspect of their characters; it makes them feel more human and more like men, which makes it easier for us to relate to them.
Speaking of characters, the voice in this story is incredible. I felt the emotions of the sylphs and the humans as if they were my own… good, bad, excited, humorous, fearful, everything! Each character literally has his or her own unique voice and presence. There is very little cross-over and many of the personalities shine so bright you don’t know who you want to hear about next. It makes all the plot jumping bearable because you actually care about someone in each section… of course, some of them you just care whether or not they get their whiny, cowardly asses kicked, but hey, that counts too! Because the characters are so well defined, they’re also somewhat predictable… but in a good way. It’s not hard to know what decision someone is going to make in the face of whatever conflict they’re facing and you can see some of the plot turns coming. I’m ok with this because the story is so well scripted and the characters so well crafted. I don’t need it to be a complete mystery. I want to see how far they can go, how high they will fly outside the bounds of their individual oppressive societies.
There isn’t really a “main” couple in The Battle Sylph, even though Solie and Heyou are the epicenter of the entire plot. This is more of an ensemble piece, switching focus between multiple groups of characters until pivotal plotlines converge and important things happen. In that aspect, it resembles some of the well-known fantasy series, like The Wheel of Time, Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones. Those are some big names to toss out, so let me be clear: The Battle Sylph is not quite as epic as all that, but it is the start of a story that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. With elements of high fantasy, such as love, adventure, politics, and magical creatures, The Battle Sylph will keep you engaged all the way through to its nail-biting conclusion.
Good advice should never be squandered…
“To know you have a weapon is to have a sense of security that shows in a woman. Men go after weak targets. Never present them with one. Your carriage is your greatest defense.”
The beauty of the lack of ego…
“You look like an ugly guy.”
“You didn’t notice you looked like a guy?” she asked dryly.
“I didn’t notice I was ugly.”
Self-advice never sounded so good…
If you take all the blame on yourself, you let the real culprit get away.
What are chores, indeed!
“We’re safe, Heyou. We can stay!”
“What are chores?” he asked.
Life Lessons 101: Never pick a fight with a battler…
“Solie says you’re ugly,” Heyou pointed out.
The boy blanched and his face turned red. “Do you want a punch in the mouth?”
“Do you want to die?”
Some things are better left unsaid…
“What have you been up to all morning?” she asked.
“I moved rocks,” he told her. “Then I got to beat someone up. Then I got to dig feces out of a hole.” He paused. “What’s a feces?”
We are more than the sum of our parts…
“I was born on a farm in a tiny hamlet. It wasn’t even big enough to be called a village! My father wanted to marry me off to a man three times my age. That was the only ambition he had for me.”
“So? I’m the son of a wagon drover. You aren’t your origins. You’re what you choose to do with your life.”
“What are you doing to me?”
“But I’m old!”
“You’re younger than I am.”
“I can’t have children anymore.”
“Doesn’t matter to me. I can’t get you with child anyway.”
“I’m no virgin.”
“I would have fixed that anyway.”
If you liked The Battle Sylph of the Sylph series…
Normally this is where I’d say “If you enjoyed The Battle Sylph, you might also enjoy…” and give you some nifty new books for your “to read” list. Unfortunately, this book is not paranormal romance or urban fantasy, which is the bread and butter of GraveTells. Hence, I have very little to recommend since it’s been SO long since I’ve read anything not involving vampires and weres and fairies… oh my! There are couples in this novel, and even some sex, but it’s not urban (it’s set in medieval times) and it’s not romance-centric. This is a little heavier & deeper than our usual reads because of its near-epic feel, but the story is also less gloomy than its well-known fantasy counterparts.
That said, fans of The Wheel of Time, and other similarly sweeping fantasy series, who are looking for a lighter, quicker, less politically-involved read, will probably enjoy The Battle Sylph.
The Battle Sylph is a story about bravery and courage from within, overcoming the bounds of slavery and the chains of hate. It is a tale of self-sacrifice and community spirit, an ensemble piece rich in emotion, with more depth and creativity than I expected. This has the makings of a powerful, memorable fantasy series. It is incredibly engaging; a creative new world where technology is stunted, elementals are enslaved to privileged humans, and oppression runs rampant.
There is more going on here than just a simple love story or a political conflict. The emotional ties between many of the characters, not necessarily just the two central ones, are strong and vital. They make the story bigger and richer and deeper. There were sections of this story (several of them, and not just the steamy parts!) that I read two or three times because they affected me that much. The Battle Sylph may not be paranormal romance or urban fantasy, but this is most definitely a recommended read!!
There are currently three books in the Sylph series by L. J. McDonald, not counting a short story in an anthology. Check the links below to find out more about them!
Rating: The Battle Sylph
Buy The Battle Sylph (Sylph series #1): Amazon
Buy The Shattered Sylph (Sylph series #2): Amazon
Buy A Midwinter Fantasy (Sylph series #2.5): Amazon
Buy The Queen of the Sylphs (Sylph series #3): Amazon
http://ljmcdonald.blogspot.com/ (L. J. McDonald’s website)