Elf Child - David M Pierce
One of the interesting things about this novel is that its gay theme is secondary to its main theme: the magical properties of the Elf Child Ross. Not that the gay elements are minor - they're not, but in many ways, this book could equally have been written about heterosexual love. Fortunately, it wasn't, and what you have is a magical story of two young men, Ross and Eric, who find love despite their profound differences.
Ross is an Elf Child, which makes him sound rather fey or whimsical. He's not. He's a shape-shifter and can take the form of any living creature. Being gay, with a voracious sexual appetite, he most often changes into beautiful young men. A different sex partner every night, he become disillusioned with his life and begins to look for the one partner he can settle down with and trust his secret to.
This book is well-rounded, with delightfully written supporting characters in Russ and Eric's mothers, both of whom adore their sons and want to protect them, however hard that protection is at times.
I think my main reservation with this book is something that is not really the book's fault. The sex is very much of the "they went to bed and made love" kind. Beautiful young men, great premise in the shape-shifter, but you never actually get past the bedroom door with the descriptions of the sex. But not everyone wants graphic descriptions of sex in books; not everyone wants erotica. If you prefer a more lyrical love story where the sex is left to the imagination (hmm, would you be on my site if you did?) then this is definitely the book for you. It's got just enough sex in it to make it "racy" for the uninitiated, but never enough to offend in any way. This book will leave you with a warm feeling and, to be honest, that's not to be dismissed these days.
Another example of the dictum "never judge a book by its cover", in this case a beautifully erotic image of a tattooed and semi-naked young man poised suggestively on a stained and bare mattress. Maybe I should blame the predictable reaction I had to the cover for the sense of frustrated disappointment induced by this book.
Unfortunately, there is more wrong with it than just false promise. It blends genres, fantasy/romance/mystery, but that's not the problem either. The fundamental weakness of the novel for me is the jarring clash of simple, sweet romance and a couple of profoundly disturbing events that screamed "gratuitous plot device". Taken together with over-reliance on a series of unlikely coincidences, it adds up to a story that's contrived and unconvincing.
Never totally absorbed by the story, I was aware I was reading a novel, with characters, not flesh and blood real people. I was puzzled by dream sequences that didn't seem to be there for any reason. On top of all that, the writer has an annoying habit of telling rather than subtly showing us what's going on all the time.
Russ Lincoln appears to Eric Taylor as a twenty something gay man looking for a pick-up in a bar. They click instantly, a classic case of love at first sight. Russ, however, is really a changeling more than twice as old as Eric, an ageless shape-shifter who can transform into any body he pleases, human or animal. He uses this skill to satisfy his desire for abundant casual sex, living a care-free life running a T-shirt business at the beach in San Diego. Eric is tired of one-night stands and looking for something more meaningful. Life isn't easy, however, for these two lovers. There are many complications that threaten to drive a wedge between them. Russ needs to transform regularly but his mother, Lizzie, has warned against betraying their secret. Eric's adoptive mother, is an amateur genealogist whose researches uncover hidden connections and dark secrets. Then there's Eric's old pal, Kevin, who wants more than friendship.
The book contains no graphic sex, or even much in the way of simple eroticism to show us this special love Russ and Eric are supposed to share. If you like fluffy romance that spares the details then this is perfect. I was disappointed. I liked but didn't feel I really knew either of them because they're underwritten. I liked the notion Russ could be any fantasy man Eric desired, and I wanted to see more done with aspects of shape-shifting as it relates to sex between two men. There's the danger Russ could transform into a wild animal, for example but that's never explored. It could have done more to draw parallels between the outsider status of shape-shifters and gay men in a society intolerant of difference. I wonder too how they will cope with an ageing human partner given Russ's penchant for sex with good-looking young men.
So, the book is enjoyable enough but, despite the flavour of magical realism, lacking that special spark required to overcome its weaknesses. I have to say the elf child did not live for me in the same way as Jordan, the shape-shifter in Jenny's "Time is the Fire" and "Darkling Plain".
Publisher: Harrington Press Park. ISBN: 1560234288
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