|Elfquest: Shards. Written by Wendy and Richard Pini and Sara Byam. Illustrated by various. Poughkeepsie, NY: Warp Graphics, 1998. 1v. (unpaged). (Elfquest Reader's Collection, Book 10). $13.95. ISBN 0-936861-42-8.|
NOTE: This book collects the series Elfquest: Hidden Years, issues 8-15.
The book starts with a trio of fairly simple but important stories in which Rayek is the focus. First, a deeply depressed and powerless Rayek keeps to the Palace and reflects on everything he did, especially the mistakes he made. Only his growing relationship with Venka, the daughter he never knew he had, allows him to take the first steps toward "awakening," accomplished largely through the stalking and killing of a buck. Yet most of the other Wolfriders, still despising him for what he did to Cutter, refuse to share his kill. In the next story, Rayek narrates his personal history, from how he began to develop his powers to his role as the Sun Village's hunter/protector to his growing relationship with the slightly younger Leetah, who, after she learns how to defeat death by stabbing and then healing herself, is unable to open herself up to her erstwhile lover. Finally, recognizing that Cutter is still suffering greatly from what he did and needs a fight to start the healing process, Rayek offers a challenge to the Wolf Chief. In an arena provided by the trolls, Cutter attacks Rayek mercilessly and reveals to him the dreadful tormenting dreams that he would not reveal to his tribe. At fight's end, Cutter and Rayek are at least able to meet one another on neutral ground.
Throughout these stories, Winnowill has been floating, apparently mindless, in a bubble of water in the Palace. But starting with the fourth story, the first of the "Shards" thread, she awakens while the Wolfriders are off carousing with the trolls. Having mentally joined with the Palace, she attempts to fly off with it. But Venka detects her, and in a mental struggle for control, Venka and Rayek break Winnowill's concentration. The Palace hurtles through the sky and crashes into the mountains, disintegrating into innumerable crystal shards and flinging Winnowill out of her water chamber. Unfortunately, the shards have fallen in human territory, and worse, a party of human warriors saw the whole thing. The saddle-chief of the warriors immediately orders his men to locate the fragments; his intention is to send some crystals back to Grohmul Djun, the powerful and cruel warlord of the area.
Rayek is frantic to get to the shards, but the Wolfriders have more immediate concerns, such as food. Recognizing that they dare not show themselves even for the Palace, they just send some Preservers to watch and see what happens. As the Wolfriders wait, Cutter makes a new wolf-friend, and Tyleet returns to a human woodcutter that she had teased previously and starts to learn the human tongue from him so that she can teach it to the others. Scouter mistakenly believes that Tyleet is in danger from the human and "rescues" her, only to have a most unexpected thing happen as she attempts to elude him: they Recognize one another (which, BTW, delights Dewshine) and start a cub going.
Meanwhile, the Djun himself arrives at the site of the crystal-fall to see them for himself. He commands that every last fragment be gathered up; and while he broods over the slowness of the process, a mysterous female figure appears in his tent, whispers "... save... me...!" and collapses. She appears to be dead but comes back to life at the Djun's touch. It's Winnowill, in human shape. Fascinated by her beauty, he decides to "keep" her. Later, when the Djun's men discover the Scroll of Colors, she attempts to go to it. Enraged that she showed herself to the men, he strikes her; she retaliates with a pain-touch. The Djun decides to kill her, but cannot bring himself to do it when she freely kneels and bares her neck to him. Instead, he decides to take advantage of the power she can bring him.
Time passes. Tyleet continues to learn the human tongue from the woodcutter and pass it along to the other elves. But one day the Djun's men press-gang the kindly man into their shard-gathering corps, which has a mere three days to finish the task. Tyleet is unable to help him escape, and indeed nearly loses her wolf-friend Patience to the crossbows of the Djun's men. After Leetah and Mender heal the wolf, Cutter announces that it's time for the tribe to split up. He will take the warriors and most of the magic-users in a quest to take the shards from the Djun; his daughter Ember will lead the rest of the tribe in a search for a safe holt in which the Wolfriders can survive should the Palace-questers be killed. After this stunning announcement, Tyleet and Skywise attempt to rescue the woodcutter. They succeed, but one of the Djun's men--the mercenary from Kings of the Broken Wheel, whose daughter Shuna was saved by Leetah--captures Tyleet, thinking he has another healer with which he can make money. Tyleet only escapes when Shuna frees her (and Shuna runs away in the process rather than be whipped to death by her father, with consequences that will be seen later). The book concludes as Ember chooses the Wolfriders who will accompany her.
I thought the "healing" fight between Cutter and Rayek (drawn, BTW, by John Byrne), was a tad cliched, but in context it works. One thing that confused me was that Rayek was shown possessing his normal powers in the fight episode. When did he regain them? If the buck hunt rekindled them, it wasn't obvious. I also thought the Djun was more two-dimensional than usual for an Elfquest villain, though in later books he would be given more humanity. But vicious bastard though he is, as a character he's really not the equal of Winnowill, Two-Edge, or even Rayek in his darker days. He isn't provided with any kind of rationale for being vicious; he just is, and that's a shame.
Overall, the art in this book is superior to that in Blood of Ten Chiefs. I must say, Byrne was the perfect person to ink the Cutter/Rayek fight.
This excellent book is a must for Elfquest collections as the first book in an extremely important series of events in the elves' lives. It could be purchased before or after Dreamtime; it will make sense in either case, though having Dreamtime will clarify some of the issues that arise in Shards.
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