Sunday, May 11, 2008

Review of Elom by William H. Drinkard

I really loved this novel.

The blurb for ELOM got me. I've been mentioning The Clan of the Cave Bear a lot recently, and the author of Elom calls his novel "The Clan of the Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind." So I was prepared to plunk down money for the novel. However, my Book Fairy over at Tor granted my wish, and a nice hardcover appeared in the mail a week later. Thanks, Tor!

William Drinkard is not your typical debut novelist. He served in the Alabama State Legislature for twelve years, and even was the Senate Majority Leader. He's still involved with politics, but not as an elected official. When one hears such things, one wonders, "Yeah, but can he write?"

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes.

The novel starts when the young Geerna is preparing for the ceremony that will make her a woman. Her devotion to her goddess, Shetow, is unquestioned, so when light appears and when it takes her up to the heavens, she believes that she is going to Shetow.

Next, we are transported untold thousands of years to a gathering of female clan leaders known as Medoras. They share the world of Elom with an alien species known as drak, who are a sort feathered lizardmen. The drak have notified them that it is time for the Second Judging, a time long-foretold when Shetow would decide if the People are worthy enough to continue existing. They decide to use an unexplained Trait that the Medoras were given at the last Progression (which is about equivalent to an "eon," or an "Age" for Robert Jordan fans) to decide who would become a representative. The candidates must be selected by the conclusion of the upcoming mating ritual, where young people compete for the privilege of procreating.

Along the way, we learn that the People have lived according to a Covenant that Geerna made with Shetow in order to be given their second chance. Men are hunters and women are artists. There are other occupations of course--no society could function with only two jobs--but it is forbidden to cross these gender lines. Everyone's lives has one purpose--to improve the race for the Second Judging by selective breeding certain traits of intelligence, artistic ability and physical prowess.

The rest of the novels is about these eventual representatives, their competition and selection, and their enlightenment as to what is really behind the Second Judging. Seven are selected, three men and four women. They vary in age from sixteen to about twenty. A great deal of time is spent with their various rivalries and love lives, and how they eventually pair up. However, this is interspersed skillfully between revelations about the Second Judging, the nature of the drak, the truth behind a mark most of them have on their skin and the fate of the artwork that the women of the twenty-four tribes has labored for centuries to produce.

A surprisingly short amount of time was spent on the mating competition, but in retrospect I would not have enjoyed reading about contest after contest. I really enjoyed the way Drinkard revealed more and more of the secrets of Elom while the characters made their travels, and few of the secrets were anything I expected. I enjoyed a scene toward the end when the three human races of Elom--collected from Earth at various points in the past--see each other for the first time. I just wish that they all had a chance to actually interact with each other.

The writing is unaffected yet lyrical, and absolutely riveting. This novel is definitely a candidate for a reread. As I came closer to the end, I began to wonder if this novel is the start of a series, since it became clear that something I expected to happen would not happen. However, the ending--which I found reminiscent of a certain encounter in Carl Sagan's Contact--made the possibility of a sequel ambiguous. The story feels like it came to a conclusion, yet it definitely hints that the adventures of the seven are far from over.

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