The Betrayal tells the story of a conflict between the aelven (elves, of course) and their exiled kin, the alben, who were outcast from aelven society in the distant past when they became afflicted with vampiric urges. I’m a little sick of vampires in general, but Pati Nagle‘s take on them is original, and it makes sense. The magic of the aelven is based on exchange of khi, or energy, and the alben’s blood drinking is a logical corruption of that.
There are two intertwining narratives here. One follows Eliani and Turisan, two young aelven who are drawn together by the rare magical gift of mindspeech. This gift creates an instant bond between them that eventually leads to romance, and it also has the potential to become a powerful weapon in the hands of the aelven. Eliani struggles with the gift; she knows that accepting it would be advantageous to the aelven, but due to past heartbreak, she is resistant to the close relationship it would forge between herself and Turisan. The other plotline is told from the point of view of the alben queen, Shalar, who has two fervent desires: a child (the alben have been infertile for long years), and the return of her clan’s homeland.
The aelvan live alongside a lesser race called kobalen. The name reminded me of kobolds, and so I was initially picturing goblinlike creatures, but I quickly began to suspect that the kobalen are…something else. The ethical treatment of kobalen is a recurring issue in The Betrayal. The aelven think of them as just above vermin, while the alben hunt them for blood and enslave them, yet some are beginning to wonder whether they should be regarded as sentient beings.
The question of “personhood” comes up in regard to the alben as well. The alben are considered to be aelven no longer, but several aelven characters find themselves wrestling with the knowledge that the two races are closely related, and with the possibility that the alben’s blood drinking may not be voluntary. This leads to another issue: war, and the need to consider all the available information before taking up arms. I like that Nagle questions the “giant epic battle solves everything” trope that sometimes appears in high fantasy.
Pati Nagle’s prose is a treat. It’s elegant; she’s great at using just the right amount of “archaic” or “elevated” language to add to the mood without impeding the flow of the story. She’s also skilled with descriptions. The beauties of nature and of aelven handiwork, from embroidery to palaces, are vivid throughout the novel.
The plot is tight and well-executed, with several threads that promise to come together in interesting ways. I hadn’t realized this was a series and hoped it would be resolved in one book, but when I realized I was near the end, I knew it was not to be! Alas, this means I’ll have to wait to find out how this story ends, but I’m looking forward to it.
Blood of the Kindred — (2009-2011) Publisher: The noble and magical aelven were riven by war when a rogue clan embraced a forbidden source of magic: the drinking of blood. In the bitter fighting that ensued, the vampiric Clan Darkshore were cast out of the aelven and driven across the Ebon Mountains. Stripped of their various clan colors, they were thenceforth known only as ‘alben,’ hated and shunned. An uneasy peace now holds over the land, but it is whispered that Shalár, the beautiful and bloodthirsty queen of the alben, is readying a surprise attack to win back all that was lost-and none can say where or when she will strike. The fate of the clans will depend on two young aelven lovers, Eliani and Turisan, who are blessed with a legendary gift: the fabled power of mindspeech. But this ability comes with great risks. Time is running out as the alben mount their attack — and their ultimate betrayal.