Another Hades and Persephone retelling? I don’t think I could actually get tired of those just yet to be honest. That said, I was a bit lukewarm with this title. I got the book because the cover art was GORGEOUS and obviously had that H&P vibe mixed in with straight up fae-ish fantasy. And the hardcover outside of the cover art is ALSO decadent and beautiful and nicely put together (except that godawful Scriptina font rearing its head in the chapter titles). But save for the beginning scenes and what was roughly two-thirds of the book, I was mostly feeling meh about the story. It was a fast read, for sure, but that’s because nothing much happened. Even the romantic entanglement that the MCs finally get into just kind of…ease in. It’s not something I’d expect from two complete opposites. All that said, I was definitely interested in the world built around this Married to Magic universe that I might want to read more of it at some point.
A DEAL WITH THE ELF KING
by Elise Kova
Silver Wing Press, November 2020
YA fantasy, romance
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
Three-thousand years ago, humans were hunted by powerful races with wild magic until the treaty was formed. Now, for centuries, the elves have taken a young woman from Luella’s village to be their Human Queen.
To be chosen is seen as a mark of death by the townsfolk. A mark nineteen-year-old Luella is grateful to have escaped as a girl. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to studying herbology and becoming the town’s only healer.
That is, until the Elf King unexpectedly arrives… for her.
Everything Luella had thought she’d known about her life, and herself, was a lie. Taken to a land filled with wild magic, Luella is forced to be the new queen to a cold yet blisteringly handsome Elf King. Once there, she learns about a dying world that only she can save.
The magical land of Midscape pulls on one corner of her heart, her home and people tug on another… but what will truly break her is a passion she never wanted.
I feel like other than my Holly Black fest, a number of the books (or maybe just stories) I’ve read this year revolve around this concept of Hades and Persephone. I didn’t actually pick up A Deal with the Elf King thinking this, though. I mean, other than the cover, I wasn’t sure if the story itself was meant to mimic that of the Hades story (after having read it, I can tell you it certainly does!). This was one case where I didn’t read the book jacket summary prior to purchasing a copy. Not that this mattered either way. I’m always looking for good iterations of the H&P retelling.
But let’s first and foremost talk about how this book looks on the outside. Not gonna lie, it’s GORGEOUS. The cover alone (by Marcela Meideros) demands attention, and when you remove that, you get a really smooth, matte finish on the hardcover. On top of that, the artwork of the throne and the portal through the woods! Chef’s kiss on the packaging, for sure.
Now, onto the story itself. I will admit a lot of the exposition in the beginning was what kept me reading. When the beginning pretty much starts you off with alliteration and repetition, you know things are about to get dramatic.
The story starts off by us getting introduced to Luella, pretty much your boss-girl in a village with very few boss-girls. She is the resident healer and owns an apothecary, and has been pretty successful with her career that she wants for nothing. A lot of her motivation to be Capton’s resident expert in healing is mostly altruistic–the villagers have paid for her education, and she is eternally grateful for it. Things would have chugged along perfectly until the elves came around.
But that’s not what really started the story for me (though it continued the intrigue). What started the story for me was the strength in Luella’s convictions at the beginning chapter. At this point in the story, we get the sense that Luella already has a love interest, and it’s not the elf king. In fact, we get introduced to Luke immediately as that guy that Luella has been crushing on for the longest time. He’s a childhood friend, someone she’s been attracted to, and can see herself marrying in the possible future.
Then Luke strikes out by making the cardinal mistakes against an Independent Woman of Means: he jumps the gun with the marriage talk, assumes she will stop having a Career once they are married, and sets off on the longest game of deceit and dishonesty, all in the name of True Love. I mean, my dude, avoid baseball at all costs.
This would seem like a non-issue in the overall scheme of things, but Luke’s latter actions played a major part in Luella’s ignorance of her role as the next Human Queen. The elves can no longer wait for Luella to acclimate, as they whisk her away from Capton and into their magical land of Midscape. There, she is expected to sit upon the Human Queen’s throne in order to feed the land of her power. It sounds like a painful procedure, but that definitely seems to be the case for Luella, whose powers have been suppressed from the outset.
This focus on lore and the magical system got me really interested in the story itself. What I liked about reading A Deal with the Elf King was that Kova incorporated a lot of the lore around Midscape in her story. It’s surprising to see the worldbuilding come to life in a span of 300 pages, but it’s definitely there. I kept wishing there was more on the greater scheme of things. I felt much of the politics with the elves and the fae and all the other denizens of Midscape were briefly dealt with, because the focus was solely on the romance aspect of Eldas and Luella. Which is a shame, because I thought the Harrow and Aria subplot was so interesting.
The bit that ultimately didn’t work for me was the characterization of the Persephone and Hades archetypes. I felt a lot of the conversation between the two seemed a bit awkward, especially in the beginning. The arguments they had boiled down to constant yelling nonsense at each other. I felt like rolling my eyes every time Luella tried to assert that she is Not Like Other Girls.
Heaven forbid, Luella has dreams! And plans! None of the other queens–who were “groomed” (her exact words) to be the Human Queen–really thought they should have dreams and plans, so of course they were ignorant in what their passions and desires were! Therefore Luella is DIFFERENT and SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH, NOT LESSER, BUT LIKE AN EQUAL.
Luella, calm the fuck down. You should be treated an equal as a Human Queen because you’re A PERSON, who is STRONG and quite literally the ONLY thing with POWER enough to bring Midscape back to life. All the Human Queens should be treated as such because they’re practically human batteries charging up the very well-being of the magical world.
Thankfully, Luella mostly shuts up about how different she is to all the other Human Queens once she starts reading the journals left behind by previous queens, some of which even give her insight into the magic behind the Elf King’s throne (GASP! Some of the Human Queens have thoughts!). And all in all, after that small Pick Me Girl outburst, she starts to experience some personal growth and struggle through internal conflicts.
Which brings me to the matter of Eldas himself, the supposed broody, handsome, dangerous dark power that is the Elf King.
Honestly, the guy’s an absolute cinnamon roll. There’s a sense of power in him, sure, and he’s described as handsome, but if we were going for “broody, grumpy,” and all those descriptors that could possibly describe morally gray TDHs, it falls flat because Eldas is kind of just…boring. I personally have a bias for the Hades persona, but in this case, he’s not even a tsundere-bean I can get behind. After the initial onset of showing power and being infuriated that he’d been deceived all these years, he kind of becomes a pushover. Hell, one scene has him going all domestic and cooking bacon. In a cottage. In the middle of nowhere. NOT THAT ANY OF THESE COMBINATIONS ARE BAD. It’s just that this scene wasn’t exactly paired with…well, any other show of power other than the first few chapters. We keep being reminded that Eldas is the badass Elf King who rules all of Midscape, but we don’t really get to see the full scape of this power. And that’s a pity.
3.5 out of 5 cookies! Overall, I will probably want to read/own A Dance with the Fae Prince, the next Married to Magic book (they’re standalones, is my understanding), if only because again, the artwork is gorgeous, and I do like the world enough to want to know more!