The greatest quote in all of literature was delivered by Professor Hugo Dyson while lounging on a couch in a pub in England while listening to J.R.R. Tolkien as he read an excerpt from a work in progress. Dyson is reported to have said, quite loudly: “Oh f, not another elf!”
Tolkien’s work in progress ultimately became part of his Lord of the Rings trilogy and the touchstone for all future works of fantasy literature. Dyson, on the other hand, has been relegated to little more than an aside in the Tolkien mythology, his inclusion based almost solely upon the above quote. (And for dedicated readers of the Books page, I apologize for using this anecdote yet again, but I do so love the quote.)
Obviously, Dyson proved to be in the minority in not appreciating Tolkien’s elves and masterpieces, but millions of others certainly have and count first-time author Callie Bates upon their number. There are no elves in “The Waking Land,” but there is plenty of Tolkien within these pages and for anyone who has done a crossword puzzle with the three-letter clue for “tree people” the debt and honor Bates pays to Tolkien are apparent.
“The Waking Land” opens with a failed assassination attempt on the King of Eren (regicide, failed or otherwise, is always a great opener for fantasy and was employed brilliantly in David Anthony Durham’s “Acacia” trilogy). In the aftermath, Elanna, the daughter of the leader of the coup is taken into the king’s household and raised almost as his own daughter. By keeping Elanna close, the thought was to keep Elanna’s father, the purported author of the king’s overthrow, bound up in his home country of Caeris. A fine bit of diplomacy except that the king’s actual daughter grows to resent the favoritism shown Elanna and that resentment turns to blood.
Elanna must flee the palace after the king is murdered and the new queen is quick to employ the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” theory in seeking to have Elanna arrested and tried. The only place for Elanna to flee is home to Caeris, but in Caeris are the parents who she believes never came to save her. A world foreign to her and a world she has come to doubt when raised on the stories of righteous Eren.
In true epic fantasy literature fashion, there is a dark shadow and an unseen empire on the horizon at…