Vampires, elves, witches, ghouls, shapeshifters (kitsune aka foxes how cool is that!?) – these are all creatures you’ll see in this new and excited urban fantasy series by M.L. Brennan. Today we’re happy to have M.L. with us to talk about:
Making Elves Into Nightmares!
Read my review of Book 1: Generation V
Read my review of Book 2: Iron Night
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When I was young, my brother helped me roll my first D&D character, and after that I spent more hours than I can even safely estimate adventuring through imaginary dungeons. I spent even more hours reading books in the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and just about every other standard fantasy setup series you can imagine.
My point is, of course, that you have no idea how popular I was in high school.
No, that’s not my point (today). Tolkien’s conception of elves as a pure, noble, eternally youthful and physically perfect species set the standard that was followed almost in lockstep by decades of fantasy writers, and for many people (including me) it was their first and formative exposure to the elf. Elves were remote, gracious, wise, benevolent, and pretty much universally white. (there is of course the “dark elf” in several fantasy worlds, but I’m not going to get into those beyond the fact that some helpful person decided that it would be best to color-code those elves. so, yes, evil elves are black. that’s just about as wrong as it sounds.)
When I was writing my Generation V urban fantasy series, however, and decided to include elves, I wanted to do something different. I’m certainly not going to suggest that this was anything groundbreaking – my elves bear a heavy literary debt to writers like Emma Bull who went back to the original folklore of elves (where the fair folk are decidedly less benevolent than Tolkien preferred) and Rob Thurman, whose wonderful Cal Leandros books were the first I’d ever seen that truly transformed the concept of elves into something nightmarish. I’d loved these newer, more complicated versions of elves, and I absolutely wanted to put my oar into that literary pond.
In Generation V I had rethought vampires and kitsune and reconstructed them on a species level to function and balance in a real-world (ish) setting. I’d made some pretty substantial changes, particularly to the vampires, and I wanted to make sure that my elves were adjusted in a way that would be consistent. Looking at representations of elves, the primary takeaway for me as the most important feature about them was this – they were immortal and ageless. I’d already dealt with something similar with vampires, and made adjustments, but here was a good opportunity for me to tackle and rethink these problematic features (and to those who think these aren’t problematic, look at a mouse. a female mouse will live up to three years and be able to produce 300 offspring in her lifetime. now imagine if that mouse was eternal and ageless. Earth becomes a mouse hotel).
My elves are still eternal and ageless. But I took away a few other traits, like the empathy, nobility, graciousness, and general tree-hugging qualities that classic fantasy gives elves. Then I thought about ancient civilizations, the ones that these elves would’ve been most exposed by – and the vast majority of ancient civilizations were very much based on violent principles, with the expectation of regular battles, wars, and raids built into their society. This offered a very interesting direction for my elves, because the last thing that often comes up in fantasy (both Tolkien-traditional and most modern approaches) is the idea of elves as a species slowly dying out. Some dress it up a bit more as a retreat away from the world (and probably those annoying and sweaty humans), but in almost every case, the elves are an ancient civilization that has slipped far from the glories of its yesteryears. I liked that idea, because that kind of society, where there is diminishment from what once was (and where individuals would actually remember the good old days) breeds resentment and anger.
I stirred all of this together and the end result was a species of elves where the whole purpose of a life well spent had been bloodshed and violence – and since their lives were just about eternal, and once grown to adulthood they would never age, this led to unending war. Without empathy or finer emotions, the purpose of having a child and raising it became the desire to one day face and kill a worthy opponent. And the war can just continue. And continue. And continue.
The last thing I put into this species was a real-world example, in this case the example of the right whale. The right whale got its name from whalers, because it was the “right” kind of whale – docile, surface swimmers, lots of oil. Because of whaling, the species was driven right to the brink of extinction – and by right to the brink, I mean that according to genetic studies done by scientists, at one point there were less than a dozen female right whales left.
Protections and other sources of oil have allowed the right whale population to rebound – to a degree. Because now it’s not just a problem of humans – it’s genetics. So few females meant that there was massive inbreeding, and now many of the female right whales are so inbred that they can’t carry their babies to term. What does that mean for a species? Very bad things.
Back to elves. I imagined a species that was having so much fun with the wars and killing that they managed to kill off huge chunks of their own population, so far down that by the time they realized that there was a problem, they were in the inbreeding danger zone. Female elves could no longer carry to term, and the only possible source for new offspring was in humans. So the remaining male elves sadly put aside the chance to murder each other, and started trying to build up a population. But half-elves didn’t have all the traits that the elves valued – so they turned back to that old friend inbreeding and in the time of my second book, Iron Night, are trying to breed back as close as they can to a full elf that can preserve their species as they know it. And when they realize that to get what they want would involve killing some people – well, this has never been a species shy about that. Plus, humans are barely a blip on their radars. Which is when my vampire Fort and his kitsune friend Suzume get involved, and then there’s what I’ll just refer to as a culture crash.
Underemployed by day. Undead by night.
Underachieving film theory graduate and vampire Fortitude Scott may be waiting tables at a snooty restaurant run by a tyrannical chef who hates him, but the other parts of his life finally seem to be stabilizing. He’s learning how to rule the Scott family territory, hanging out more with his shapeshifting friend Suzume Hollis, and has actually found a decent roommate for once.
Until he finds his roommate’s dead body.
The Scott family cover-up machine swings into gear, but Fort is the only person trying to figure out who (or what) actually killed his friend. His hunt for a murderer leads to a creature that scares even his sociopathic family, and puts them all in deadly peril.
Keeping secrets, killing monsters, and still having to make it to work on time? Sometimes being a vampire really sucks.