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Elfland (Aetherial Tales) - Freda Warrington Technically, Elfland is urban fantasy, but forget everything you normally associate with that phrase; this is a family drama with a fairy tale or two in its ancestry. A bit like a contemporary Juliet Marillier.

The book centers on two families in small-town England: both have children, who begin the book as teenagers but quickly grow into young adults. Both families are “Aetherial,” meaning they have otherworldly origins, but have chosen to live on Earth--and now find themselves stuck there. But while there’s enough magic in the book to keep it from becoming too mundane, the fantasy elements play a relatively minor role. Very little time is spent in the Otherworld, despite what the title and cover might have you believe; Warrington evokes a sense of wonder about it, undiluted by a drawn-out quest or travelogue. Elfland is, first, a family drama, and second, a romance. It’s also a melodrama, but while that normally means “cue detached eye-rolling,” this one completely worked for me, probably because it’s so easy to believe in the characters and get caught up in their stories.

I had a fantastic time with this book, finding it more enjoyable and immersive than anything I’d read for awhile. The characters are real and complicated people who are easy to sympathize with. Rosie, who is probably the protagonist (though the book is told in third-person and often shifts to other POVs) makes an excellent heroine: she’s nice, but in a way that feels genuine and realistic--not at all one of those too-good-to-be-true types that authors create when they’re afraid of giving their leads flaws. And she’s reasonable, which makes her easy to relate to. The same goes for her family: the characters and the way they communicate with each other are positive, making them easy to like, but always feel real and never contrived or saccharine.

And the romance is a lovely slow burn that I did not expect to like (based on the identity of the love interest), but did. The book is very positive about women and sexuality: Rosie goes to college, dates, has some sex, and this is treated as perfectly normal and healthy and not something that need be dealt with in great detail (although there are some explicit scenes later in the book).

The writing itself is nothing to write home about, but there is some great imagery, and Warrington does a good job with the modern (and very British) dialogue. At times the plot felt like a bit much (there’s perhaps one murderous rage too many), and occasionally a male character would seem a tad too sensitive, but by the time I’d gotten a couple of chapters in, I was thoroughly enjoying the book and was not put off by its imperfections. So, while not great literature, Elfland is still a lovely work, and one I’d recommend to those who like their fantasy firmly grounded in the real world.