Never to Live
by Just B. Jordan
Elwyn has driven herself insane to keep herself alive. They have stolen her memories. Her humanity. Her family. Everything she once had, they have taken.
When her last friend sacrifices himself so she can escape, she finds herself alone in a forest, struggling to find the dragon who slaughtered her village, who made her a murderer, and only her rage can pierce the madness she has wrapped herself in.
Across the sea, the elves are dying. Dragons have driven them almost to extinction. The lord sends Gwendor, Finnion, and a contingent of his best warriors to human lands, where they believe the Twelve Kings control the dragons.
Meanwhile, the Monster of the Kings stirs. The nature spirits mourn. War is coming to the land, and this time, it might leave so few people left that no one will rule what remains of the ravaged lands.
I wonder if this is how people felt when they first read Tolkien?
Jordan has created a vivid, unique landscape that takes some familiar tropes and turns them all on their heads. She doesn’t give you a primer, either. She trusts her readers to pick up from context and overall story what things are, never stopping to explain. Sometimes that worked very well for me; other times, particularly at the beginning, it fell terribly flat.
The reason I make the Tolkien comparison isn’t the level of the writing, but the sheer scope of the world Jordan created. Some races are fairly known to us; she uses elves, for example, but her elves are a feral, dangerous species. She uses magic, but in a way I’ve never encountered in my reading before. She uses an underpopulated world on the verge of extinction. Her dragons aren’t creatures of beauty and grace, but grotesque monstrosities meant only to hunt.
Oh, and then she throws in the unique creatures that I’ve never heard of before.
Especially at the beginning, the new terms can be a bit overwhelming. If you like rich originality and an author who never speaks down to you, this book will probably shine.
The plot is incredibly complex and dark. The main character Elwyn is an unreliable narrator. Her insanity takes us from scene to scene with a shocking fluidity. She talks to people who are there and aren’t there, and as the reader, you can’t always be sure which is which. Again, it makes for a challenging but rewarding read.
I mentioned this is dark, right? Well, the darkness got to me. Characters die suddenly. Elwyn, not entirely sane, is a murderer. Jordan does a fantastic job showing the aftermath of each misdeed Elwyn commits in her madness, though, showing that sin really does have consequences, even for the one who commits them. Sometimes darkness works, but for me, this novel went a bit too far. The darkness does serve a purpose, and Jordan’s vision is solid – it just went too far for my personal taste.
Elwyn makes a complex and compelling character. Other main characters, such as Gwendor and Finnion, are just as intriguing. Again, Jordan credits the reader to be able to keep up with subtle cues that work well. We’re not told backstory infodump style; we have to pick up on spoken lines.
I’m not sure what I think of the work overall. The complexity keeps me from being able to enjoy it as a whole, but many of the pieces appeal to me greatly. I love the unique take on dragons and magic. Elwyn took a while to get my brain around, but her cries of pain and her realistic reaction to abuse brought my compassion out.
If you’re looking for complex, dark fantasy from a Christian publisher, try this out. If you’re looking for a cardboard epic, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. This ain’t it!