fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review P.C. Cast Elphame's ChoiceElphame’s Choice by P.C. Cast

I think I’m just not meant to read P.C. Cast. Maybe I’m just anal-retentive; maybe I just have too much trouble shutting off the “mythology geek” section of my brain. I crack open a Cast novel, and instead of sinking into the story, I find myself thinking, “Celtic mythology doesn’t have centaurs,” or “Apollo would make a lousy Prince Charming,” or in this case, “Elphame’s a place name, darn it, not a character name! It means fairyland.” Elphame’s Choice is so called because its heroine is named Elphame, and this never quite stopped being distracting.

Elphame is a descendant of the heroine of Divine by Mistake. She lives a cushy but lonely existence as the daughter of Epona’s Chosen, and wants to strike out on her own and find her destiny. She finds it in the form of MacCallan Castle, which once belonged to her ancestors but was destroyed by the Fomorians generations ago. Elphame assembles a team of people to rebuild the castle, and soon the team becomes a family of sorts. I liked the scenes in which Elphame discovers leadership skills within herself, and those in which the ruined castle begins to shine again. But when Elphame sustains an injury in the woods, the plot switches gears. Her friends finish the bulk of the renovations during the five days she’s laid up, and the true heart of Elphame’s Choice — the romance — comes to the forefront.

I should say, the romances. There are two. One is between Elphame and the half-Fomorian, Lochlan, who believes she holds the key to the redemption of his people. They quickly fall in love, but Lochlan fears that the vampiric influence of his Fomorian ancestry will cause him to hurt her. I remember Divine by Mistake as being pretty raunchy and I’d been wondering why its sequel had been repackaged for the young adult market. Now I think I know. Elphame’s Choice predates Twilight, and is much steamier, but I think the “boy meets girl, boy is afraid he’ll drink girl’s blood” aspect may appeal to some of the same readers.

The other romantic plotline focuses on Elphame’s brother, Cuchulainn. Cuchulainn is something of a Casanova, but finds himself out of his depth when he falls deeply in love with Brenna, a young healer and artist who bears physical and emotional scars. I actually liked this secondary romance better than Elphame’s story, at least until the very end. If you want to read about my issue with that, highlight the following SPOILER: Brenna. Way to ruin a perfectly good “reformed rake” plot. Cuchulainn learns to love and to appreciate inner beauty, and Brenna overcomes her fears, and for what? Cast kills her off a few days after they get engaged, and then partners him with a strikingly beautiful woman in the next book, Brighid’s Quest. So, if you’re pretty, you get a happy ending, but if you’re not, you get to be the vehicle for some guy’s character development? Ugh. [END SPOILER]

This is one of Cast’s earlier books, and it’s rough in places. Most noticeably, there’s a ton of head-hopping and a long sagging middle in which nothing much happens except lust and bickering. Then there’s the Mary Sue-ness; I felt like the book would be half as long if the narrative didn’t stop so often to mention how beautiful Elphame is. The copy-editing is spotty as well. Lots of typos.

But none of this would have been so bad if it hadn’t been for two plot developments that occur toward the end. [Highlight to read the SPOILER: The prophecy. It makes no sense. Now, I love stories that hinge on an ambiguous or misinterpreted prophecy, the “no man of woman born” kind of thing. But this one quite simply left me scratching my head. The “real” meaning of the prophecy doesn’t match the actual words of the prophecy. The Goddess Epona would have had to be brainless to word it the way she did. There’s no logical way that the “real” meaning follows from what she said. And the consequences would have been disastrous if the characters had interpreted the prophecy in the only way that actually makes sense. Elphame would have been dead, and the half-Fomorians left with no hope of regaining their sanity. [END SPOILER]

Also, and this isn’t the author’s fault, but what is with the new cover art? Elphame is described as having brown skin…

Partholon — (2004-2008) Elphame’s Choice and Brighid’s Quest take place 125 years after the events in the Divine series. Publisher: The most excitement teacher Shannon Parker expected on her summer vacation was a little shopping. But then her latest purchase — a vase with the Celtic goddess Epona on it — somehow switches her into the world of Partholon, where she’s treated like a goddess. A very temperamental goddess… It seems that Shannon has stepped into another’s role as the Goddess Incarnate of Epona. And while it has some very appealing moments — what woman doesn’t like a little pampering now and then? — it also comes with a ritual marriage to a centaur and the threat of war against the evil Fomorians. Oh, and everyone disliking her because they think she’s her double. Somehow Shannon needs to figure out how to get back to Oklahoma without being killed, married to a horse or losing her mind…

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  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.