Ratings: 4.5 stars out of 5
Half human, half elf, Elisedd remained behind in the elven city-state of Airgead, hoping to find a place he can finally fit in and perhaps even someone to love . But so far that hasn’t happened as trouble seems to follow Elisedd around. Only his best friend, Fife, a rent boy, offers Elisedd safety and support when he crashes from one failed romance after another. Its not just a hookup that Elisedd wants, its love like that of his parents who have fled Airgead. Elisedd had promised his parents he wouldn’t hide his mixed heritage but when neither race seems to want him what else is he to do? Then Elisedd meets full elf Riagan at a party and everything changes.
In the elven city of Airgead, there exists a rigid class system. Between different types of elves, as well as between elves and the humans that serve them.. There are the elves that rule, by rigid social caste system and a heavy fist for those that would ignore it. And there are the low caste elves that exist by the docks and the mean neighborhoods near factories and mines. Riagan is one of those. He is ruthless, single minded, and a bit of a thug. Riagen has long formulated a plan to ascend the ruling power structure, accumulating power and wealth as he goes. And a one night encounter with Elisedd is not going to get in his way of suceess or so Riagan thinks.
Elisedd is determined not to be another easy conquest for Riagan, but staying away from the dark and dangerous elf becomes harder each time they meet. Riagan too feels almost mesmerized by Elisedd’s present and not just their sexual passion they have for each other. Riagen is acquired a mine by duplicitous means and he intends to use it in a plan years in the making. The only thing that might stand in his way is Elisedd, whose mixed heritage he is hiding from Riagan. Everything is complicated between them and as the political status quo starts to get shaky, so do all the relationships around Elisedd and Riagan. The rigid boundaries erected by the high elves are starting to crack. Will the resulting chaos take Riagan and Elisedd down with it?
The Calm Before is the first book I have read by Neena Jaydon but it won’t be the last. The author’s ability to build such an intricate and believable universe for her story just amazed me. Jaydon has created a complex social structure for her characters and plot. There is a rigidly layered society within the Airgead city state that is composed of different types of elves(argent elves, gilt elves, and scorched elves). One such race aggressively entered Airgead, killing and removing all that stood in their way. Now they rule the city and are at the top of the caste system that regulates professions, holdings and even marriages. The lowest of the elves are those that would be the human equivalent of a trade level, or lower. They have their own neighborhoods and distinct regions within Airgead. Neighborhoods that are found in the worst part of the city, hard, impoverished. and ruled by gangs. They even have their own dialect that when spoken marks them as a lower caste. But the lowest of all are humans. They exist to serve the elves including labor and as prostitutes. Humans are the miners and the factory workers that resemble sweat shops. It is an existence made frail by its pain and hardships as well as lack of civil rights. Jayden has pulled from many histories to create a realistic totalitarian regime on the brink of social civil rights movement. It’s believable in the helplessness felt by those in the lower castes and in the urgency and anger that starts to shake the city state’s economic foundation.
Neena Jaydon then does justice to such astonishingly rich world with characters just as complex and compelling as the society they live in. Alisedd is a half human half elf, a rare being whose sensibilities and own passions have left him almost an outcast to both races. Alisedd is capable of “passing” as a human, lacking the pointed ears and physiology of the true elf. He longs for love and has remained behind in the city he loves, even after his parents fled. Alisedd is just that one step away from homelessness. He doesn’t want to become a prostitute like his friend Fife (a wonderful character too) but now that easy hookup looks to give him the much needed cash he requires and the connections he wants desperately to make with another. And then he meets Riagan.
Alisedd is so easy to empathize with that when Riagan comes into the picture you are more than a little afraid of the impact his arrival will have on Alisedd. And that is because Riagan is such a powerful, strong character that he exudes a sense of danger and mistrust. He is an elf fighting his way out of the gutter so to speak. And nothing is going to prevent him from achieving his goals. The attraction between the two is as combustible as the political changes that start to ignite around them.
Here the author really sinks the reader into her gritty reality. Riagan has his own agenda and is constantly fighting his attraction to Eliseed. Elisedd has his own secrets that he is keeping from Riagan. So the relationship that starts to form between them is one of stress and strain as well as one of emotion and lust. Heady stuff indeed. And Jaydon starts to amp up the societal pressures, as the streets turn ugly with racial hatred and humans start to demand their rights. The very economic foundation of Airgead threatens to crack wide open to the detriment of all who reside within its boundaries. It’s an explosive time in almost every way and Jaydon’s superb descriptions and crackling dialog serves to bring it all to life in stirring detail.
The Calm Before is told from alternating points of view, mostly Elisedd’s and Riagan’s. I found this to be absolutely necessary in order to understand all of the intricacies to the plot as well as the interwoven relationships. The author manages this change of point of views just right so that it never feels uneven or disconcerting. It did take me a few pages to get pulled into the story but once there, my attention was securely held by the drama and the unfolding love affair between two such disparate personalities. Really, I just loved this story. I found it just riveting from the world building to Jaydon’s amazing characters and their slow climb to love. Consider this highly recommended.
Cover design by Le Burden Designs. Almost a little too simple considering how lush and textured a story lies behind it.
Published February 5th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published February 4th 2014)
original titleThe Calm Before
The Calm Before at Less Than Three Press