In the years since A Companion to Wolves came out, I have probably re-read it at least once a year. It has held a place on my list of favorite books and the list of books I re-read when I need something comfortable and comforting. The second book in the saga, The Tempering of Men, while not quite as beloved to me as the first book, remains a fabulous piece of writing. An Apprentice to Elves is the third installment in the Iskryne trilogy, and a book I’ve been anticipating since the end of the second book. I got the email from NetGalley letting me know I was approved to read this book early for reviewing while I was at work, and the excited noise I made earned me several surprised looks from my co-workers.
Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear return with the third book in their Iskryne trilogy, An Apprentice to Elves. The trilogy began with A Companion to Wolves, and continued in The Tempering of Men. This novel picks up the story of Alfgyfa, a young woman who has been raised in the Wolfhall by her father, Isolfr.
The warrior culture of Iskryne forbids many things to women—and most especially it forbids them bonding to one of the giant telepathic trelwolves. But as her father was no ordinary boy, Alfgyfa is no ordinary girl. Her father has long planned to send his daughter to Tin, a matriarch among the elves who live nearby, to be both apprentice and ambassador, and now she is of age to go.
This is the first book in the saga with female perspective characters, and as much as I loved the main characters of the previous books, it’s exciting to get a different perspective on this world I’ve come to love. Alfgyfa, Otter, Tin, and Fargrimr: one girl, one woman, one svartalf Mother and Mastersmith, and one jarl. Of these, Alfgyfa is by far my favorite. Not because I dislike any of the others, but because I’m most intrigued by the questions she asks about her world. As an apprentice smith, she crafts metal. But she’s interested in how other things are made, how other crafts work with her own. And the people to whom she’s apprenticed make that curiosity anathema. And her close bond with a band of wild trelwolves is both integral to the plot, and one of the more entertaining parts of this book.
Otter and Tin’s characters arcs in this book are certainly interesting—and Otter’s burgeoning relationship with Sokkolfr absolutely my second favorite part of this whole story. At the same time, their stories feel like beginnings, rather than ends. And while there’s a certain beauty to ending a trilogy at the beginning of some character’s stories, I always, always, always want more. Maybe I’m just greedy like that.
After Alfgyfa, Fargrimr is the second more interesting character. I could have sworn that Fargrimr was a character that was in at least one of the previous books, but a quick search of the first book via my Kindle’s search function didn’t bring up any results. Obviously this means that it’s time to re-read the first two books. Fargrimr is a sworn-son; as the books explains, she was born a woman to a man with no male heirs, and thus she became her father’s male heir. I wanted to check whether I had missed it in previous books, whether I had made assumptions about this character. And I will definitely go back and re-read the other books again so that I can get a better sense of the whole continuity of this story. But for the moment, it seems as though this is the first time it makes a difference whether Fargrimr was born male or female. It’s the Rheans whose culture is different, to whom Fargrimr’s presence is a surprise. For everyone else in Fargrimr’s world, he’s completely normal. Just as it should be.
I unexpectedly finished this book while on my lunch break—unexpectedly, because while the percentage counter on my Kindle said 98%, based on where I was in the story I was expecting it to continue for longer. Instead, I encountered a chapter with the heading, “Epilogue.” I actually sat bolt upright and practically shouted at my Kindle, “What do you mean, ‘Epilogue?'” One of my coworkers laughed at me. I’ve always heard the authors refer to this series as a trilogy, but considering where they left the story, I’ve got my fingers crossed for at least one more book in this world.