Review of “The Uncovering,” a fantasy novel by Jes Young

“The Uncovering,” by Jes Young, isn’t a book I would have decided to read on my own. The fantasy genre isn’t first on my list of interests (though I have deeply enjoyed some fantasy novels), and this one was labeled as “romance” as well, which I had come to associate with a writing style that interested me even less.

I encountered the book because I was on the Enchanted Book Tours mailing list, and despite its deviations from my usual fare, something about the synopsis must have caught my eye… I decided to give it a try and post a review.

The story is centered around a young woman named Tabitha who finds out that she is really an elvish princess, destined to take her place as queen in a magical realm and marry an elvish man called Alex. But while her family prepares to put her on the throne, other forces are plotting to kill or capture her.

An enchantment, placed for the purpose of ensuring a happy marriage, causes Tabitha and her betrothed to feel irresistibly attracted to each other, which leads to some quite intense sexual scenes. But the story isn’t just built as an afterthought around the sexy parts, as many romance novels are. It’s a complete story, with fight scenes, snappy dialogue and lots of cleverly worded lines that stuck in my head long after reading them. Like this one, reminiscing on her sister Rivers’ long disappearance years ago:

Rivers left abruptly and without warning, which is, I guess, the crucial part of running away. If you plan it and tell everyone you’re going to do it, that’s just called moving.

Or this moment when she confronts her caretaker and asks him to “break the enchantment”:

“Spells are broken,” he said wearily. “Enchantments are laid and then, like a blanket, they are lifted. In any case we hardly make a habit of shouting about either in front of the staff.”
I didn’t think it was the time for a lesson in vocabulary or manners. Emily Post herself could have appeared to present me with a copy of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary and I wouldn’t have cared even one bit.

There is a lot of description of characters’ appearances, from the color and style of their hair to the scarves and shoes they’re wearing, and at times (as a somewhat fashion-unconscious nerd) I found it tiresome. But such visual descriptions did reliably paint a clear picture in my mind, and some scenes felt to me like small but memorable bits of a blockbuster fantasy movie:

After a moment of hesitation I picked up the ornate wooden box and carefully worked open the silver clasp. Inside lay a circlet, a delicate ring of braided platinum vines and flowers and diamonds flashed and sparkled. I touched it tentatively, just with the tip of my finger, and the flowers and vines burst to life, transforming into living roses and ivy and vibrant blue forget-me-nots. Clustered around the diamonds, the living flowers were more beautiful than the platinum imitation could ever hope to be. The flowers disappeared, becoming metal again, when I took my hand away.

This doesn’t go down on my list of all-time favorite fantasy novels, because the plot doesn’t contain quite enough complexity and originality to make a strong impression on me. I had hoped that the main character would do more exciting and ingenious things on her own, instead of just watching events unfold, and a few times barely managing, by not-all-that-creative means, to fight off people who want to attack her. I also hoped I’d get to see her spend some time in her destined fairyland, which, sadly, she doesn’t get to visit before the book ends.

But then, this is only the first book in a series, and Tabitha does pretty well for a beginner who was thrown into the whole mess after a lifetime of thinking she would never have to handle crap like this. And if we don’t get to see the inside of the elf realm she’s destined to rule, that’s all the more reason to read the next book in the series. I’m in no position to condemn that, in any case, since my novel “Kea’s Flight” got criticism in one review for not ending with the ship landing on a planet. The planet is planned for the sequel, folks; I will get to it eventually. And, I’m sure, so will Jes Young.

I count it as a victory that the book managed to rack up more pros than cons for me, despite the annoying perfectionism I can sometimes have. My language obsession messed with the enjoyment in some parts, as it usually does when I’m trying to enjoy fiction. Sometimes I found sentences that contained errors or unclarity, like the second sentence in the paragraph about the crown. (Should the comma be a semicolon, or should “platinum vines and” be replaced with “platinum vines on which”?)

Other times I took issue with the way made-up terms were used, even though a fiction author has every right to use made-up terms however she wishes. (In this book, light elves are called “We of the Light” and dark elves are called “They of the Dark”– even when they’re the object of the sentence. On reading sentences like “You won’t need to hide from They of the Dark,” my pedantry kept screaming out, “From THEM of the Dark! THEM!” I’m glad I don’t know any actual elves, because they would certainly not appreciate my attempts to police their use of their own elvish terminology.)

I really liked many of the descriptions of romance– not just the sex scenes, but the handful of random realistic details about life and love that happened to catch my eye. I may not be one to talk, because my love life has consisted of pretty much just John, but I feel the author paints a believable picture of being torn between an old love and a new one, still having feelings for both.

For a romance novel, this is a surprisingly clever and entertaining book. The dialogue and internal monologues are witty and very alive, and I never had to make any effort to keep turning pages. It may not be a powerful and epic work of literature, but it’s a fun read and I’m pretty sure the sequels will be even better, with the potential I see in this author.

Speaking of destiny, when I started reading this book I had no idea that it had starlings in it! Pleasant surprise there. They’re not normal starlings, they’re magical ones with red eyes and apparent psychic powers, but they’re in the book:

“Well, one of them may have indicated that he wanted me to go outside.”
“He said that?”
“He didn’t say anything, because he was a bird. But he tapped on the window when I asked if he wanted me to come out.”
“That wasn’t a bird, it was a harbinger.”
“A harbinger of what?” I asked. “You better not say doom.”
“Not doom,” George laughed, “change. The starlings means change is coming to you; one part of your life is over and another part is about to begin.”
“Well,” I shrugged, “they’re certainly right about that.”

“The Uncovering” is available from MP Publishing. Go check it out!

Here’s an interview with Jes Young! Thanks for joining me on my blog, Jes!

Erika: I’m very entertained by your style of narrative. What fantasy and romance authors have inspired you?
Jes: A few years ago I decided I wanted to write a book about elves. I imagined it as your basic good versus evil, light versus dark, princess in disguise fantasy story with a beautiful heroine, a handsome prince, some unresolved daddy issues, and a quest for revenge. It sounded simple. I sat down and, drawing on everything I learned about writing fantasy fiction by watching the Lord of the Rings movies, I wrote the first draft of The Uncovering. And that’s when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance. I was in way over my head.
As is so often the case, I found the solution to my problem in a book, in many books actually but I feel most indebted to Karen Marie Moning and Kresley Cole. They both do, seemingly effortlessly, what I want to do with my writing. That is create fun, engaging, sexy, moving stories about people you really like and care about.

Erika: As I was reading the story, I found many of the scenes easy to imagine in a movie. I’m sure most of us authors fantasize from time to time about our work being made into a film. If “The Uncovering” were a movie, what actors would you imagine playing the characters?
Jes: Would you believe that I have a board dedicated to this very thing?

Erika: I once heard someone complain about some elf-related movie because the elves didn’t have pointed ears.  He said pointed ears are the defining feature of an elf, and if the ears are round you can’t call it an elf at all. I can’t say I agree with him, but I’m still surprised when I see elves that don’t have distinguishing features of some kind.  What factors affected your decision to make your elves look physically pretty much identical to humans (instead of having them look “traditionally” elvish and hide their appearance through some enchantment when in the human world)?
Jes: I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Tolkien made that whole pointy ears thing up, and that before that the shape of elf’s ear was not an issue. He was a storyteller, and a great one, so that’s absolutely his right. Making stuff up, creating your world and the rules of it and what everyone looks like is a big part of what makes telling this kind of story fun. In my own work, I decided that what set the Elvish apart from the humans was their beauty, their, strength, and their eyes which change colors based on their emotional state. I liked the idea that they could almost blend in – but then not quite. I suppose it was a way of making them my own.
In the second book there’s a character, a water witch named Jenny Greenteeth, who’s green and she uses magic to blend in.
Erika: This may sound weird, but I love it that you included starlings in the book! I’m a bird-lover, and I have a pet starling that was raised from an abandoned baby. Sure, starlings are an invasive species and a pest in the USA– probably because they’re too smart for their own good– but they just have a charm I can’t resist. What reasons did you have for making starlings the “harbingers of change” in Tabitha’s life?

Jes: The starlings are in the book because someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of a starling murmuration:

I watched the birds flying around together, looping and swirling in a way that seemed random and yet perfectly choreographed, and I thought it was beautiful and a little spooky.
When I sat down to write, that image was in my head. With no particular plan for them in my mind, I added them into the story – as atmosphere mostly. The more I wrote about them though, the more important they became until finally they’d taken on a life of their own. In the second book, they’re a major character.

Once more, “The Uncovering” is available from MP Publishing. Go check it out!

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