Briefly, this is the first time I've written a review for a product sold by Amazon. I am not in the book industry (I still keep up a weekly romance newsletter I started while at the bookstore) though I spent a little over 21 years working for a major national bookstore chain, and during that time I was a District Romance Expert. I have been fortunate to see the Romance book genre evolve and take on new branches like Erotic Romance and Paranormal Romance (the latter sprouting the Urban Fantasy sub-genre). I've seen authors come and go and stay. All my experience in the bookselling world tells me L. J. McDonald is here to stay, so keep an eye on her, for she is an author that will not only stay but will soar.
I loved reading her debut book THE BATTLE SYLPH. The setting of the story is on an Earth-like planet inhabited by humans. There is another dimension parallel to this where the Sylphs, elemental creatures, live. There is a doorway between the two dimensions called gates. The humans have found a way to open the gates and entice a Sylph through, who then becomes a slave to the human. When a Sylph crosses the gate, it is bonded with a man--only men are allowed to bond with a Sylph, for those in power feel a woman is too weak to handle a Sylph. There are several types of Sylphs: Battle Sylphs or "warriors", Fire Sylphs, Water Sylphs, Air Sylphs and Earth Sylphs. As their name describes, they are used to fight, warm and produce light, manipulate water, air and earth. Battle Sylphs are all male. In their elemental world they are the protectors of communities called "hives" and a mate for the queens of each hive. They are naturally predisposed to hate all other males of any species, and this hatred and their supernatural strength and abilities are what are attractive to the humans.
Every Battle Sylph desires a queen and a hive of their own. The humans take advantage of this by enticing a Battle Sylph through the gate with a virgin sacrifice tied to an alter table where the gate opens. All the Battle Sylph sees is his "queen" and he cannot resist crossing the gate to her. As soon as the Battle Sylph comes through the gate, it is closed and the man who wants to bond with the Battle Sylph kills the woman and the gate closes. The Battle Sylph becomes a slave to the man who kills the girl. The man "names" the Battle Sylph and from then on the Battle Sylph has to obey him. The Battle Sylphs are told what shape to assume, a hawk, a suite of armor, a lion, etc, and they are forbidden to change or speak to anyone, including their masters and other Sylphs. Their hatred for their bonded human, the killer of their queens, is palpable, and is strong enough to physically affect anyone near them.
The king holds a ceremony to entice a Battle Sylph across the gate to bond with his son, but something goes wrong and the virgin sacrifice, a girl named Solie, doesn't get killed. Rather, it's the prince that is killed by the Battle Sylph, and Solie unwittingly names the Battle Sylph when she tries to get his attention by calling to him, "Hey, you". He is now Heyou. Solie and her Battle Sylph are on the run with the King's men and their Battle Sylphs in pursuit. Solie and Heyou find a refuge with a budding community, and life as everyone knows it is on the brink of change.
Paranormal Romance has evolved in the past few years, looking for new branches on the Paranormal tree. First there were vampires and werewolves, then other shifters, then mixtures of different creatures, then Dragons and now demons (rightly so, these guys are hot; just check out Kate Douglas' DEMONFIRE Demonfire: The Demonslayers). McDonald's innovative world in this debut book, the first in a series, is so simple yet it achieves what many authors try to reach--a back story and characters you do not see in other books--and one wonders why no one has thought of it before. Yes, elements of her Sylph world may be seen in other books and even movies, but the way McDonald treats these elements is refreshing. Her prose is fast and though not all of her characters are likable (bad guys are not meant to be liked), each one is completely fleshed out, and the ones that are the "good guys" and even some on the fence are so interesting I wish I could meet them.
Dorchester Publishing categorizes THE BATTLE SYLPH as Fantasy/Romance and RT Book Reviews has its review under Fantasy (website only). There are a few sex scenes but these are more descriptive than literal. Certainly, compared to the heat level that current romances of the day are reaching in General Romance, this book is a light weight. Personally, I'd like to see more romantic interaction between the hero and the heroine, and the sex scenes described a bit more, but that is my personal preference, and McDonald has treated the sex scenes in the book very tastefully and each one is meaningful to the story and the make up of the characters involved.
McDonald has written a solid debut book. As with any debut book there is always room for improvement, but McDonald is way ahead of the norm. Her characters and the worlds in which they live are obviously well thought out. The tantalizing glimpses of future romances and intrigues whet the reader's appetite. With this book she has made me laugh and cry. If you love Paranormal Romance and you are looking for a new branch of the sub-genre to explore, pick up THE BATTLE SYLPH. This is the type of book you dread finishing because you like the characters and their world so much you wish to live in it forever (like Avatar). McDonald with THE BATTLE SYLPH has my highest stamp of approval. I can't wait to read the next story, THE SHATTERED SYLPH (Apr. 2010)The Shattered Sylph, about Lizzie and Ril.