Elementary, All The Way

When our Earth was a hot, steamy infant, the oceans roiled, the mountains moved, and the land shifted, the lords of earth, water, air, and fire, clashed bitterly, each seeking dominion over the terrain.

These nature spirits, the Elementari, resided in rocks, flames, forests, rivers.

Artwork accompanying “Elementari Rising.”

When our ancestors appeared, they channeled their pent-up fury towards them. To broker peace was created the Terakhein—a tribe, who, in the hierarchy of species, occupied a place in between the Elementari and humans.

They were appointed guardians of these fey forces and were endowed with powers to tame them, should they get wild. The unimpeded plunder of resources over the ages has roused the Elementari from their uneasy slumber. Incensed, they’re on a rampage now.

This is the kernel of “Elementari Rising,” a debut novel by Nancy Hightower. Not many would be able to extract it though—as it’s secreted away in a plot that’s needlessly tortuous and craggy.

A hard and unseasonal winter is marching ahead. A little girl has vanished without a trace in the woods. Villages are being mysteriously razed.

A pall of intrigue and dread is sweeping across a cluster of lands, crisscrossed by a sacred forest, whose trees neither burn nor die; a vast tract where roam ferocious wild beasts; tempestuous rivers; and an ophidian desert.

Its protagonist, Jonathan, is a restless, brave teen, who’s on a search and rescue mission, guided solely by his visions. Elsewhere, a group of heedless merchants, traders, and craftsmen are intent on breaking scared ancient laws.

These are doubtless, magical raw materials. But they haven’t been braided together to produce a riveting yarn.

The story is a patchwork of many disconnected strands, each on their own trip, unsure of whether they want to blend into the narrative landscape or stick out.

Hightower has attempted to create a world of an epic high fantasy, which has the grandeur, the sweep, and the complexity of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Only her homework is woefully inadequate on mythology and folklore.

Every now and again, there are passing references to the politics of local guilds and the warring history between Gaelastad, Iarchol, Lailethas, Cadarn, and Nemaron.

But she hasn’t expanded on them. One wishes one could know more about the polity and society of this fictional region.

Instead, far too much space has been gobbled up in describing more and more of the same. The prose is cumbrous. Some expressions are downright erroneous (“a slab of bread and a hunk of cheese”).

The dialogues are juvenile, marked by ludicrous incongruities. The same sentence, for instance, holds a snatch of a dialect, spoken by the people between 1100s and 1400s and a contemporary lingo.

It’s also difficult to keep up with the obtuse parade of characters. They pop up every so often, put in a quick appearance, and then, slink away, without always explaining their connection to the storyline.

All of this, in aggregate, makes the reading experience rather dull and tedious.

As a choice of theme—an imperiled environment, seeking retribution—the book deserves a round of shout-out. It nudges us to look at changing weather patterns with a fresh pair of eyes. But I’m less than certain if that’s what its purported goal is.

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