Gifts of the Auldtree is a world of mythology, glamor, mud, blood, civilizations in conflict, and hints of distant powers. In the center of it, all is the mysterious Starlight Jewel of Minalav.
Axly, the Starlight Company's premier seductress-thief and assassin, will do whatever it takes to keep her human brother hidden. The secrets of his origin could tear their world apart, and keeping them has driven her to lies and murder. Her people, the sprygan-human hybrids that live under the city of Minalav, aren't keen on allowing their most skilled asset to roam free. A job with a human offers a chance to get her brother out of danger, but it comes at a price. Divided loyalties, duty, romance, and the twisted hands of fate intertwine as the characters struggle through this epic fantasy adventure.
"Axly felt a strange sensation, like resting on clouds whilst wrapped in silks. The scents of jasmine and myrrh soothed her, but something was supposed to happen. The feeling nagged at her rest. A small finger was supposed to poke her back. And as the dreamy haze cleared, she realized it wouldn't. Hyde wasn't here. She opened her eyes to see the ceiling mural depicting starlings and hawks flying from the forest."
Starlight Jewel is the initial book in the Gifts of the Auldtree series, written by E. L. Lyons. With one of the most extensive world-buildings I've read in a novel, we are going to be following the story that unravels around Axly, the Starlight Jewel, our main character, and the secret she's hiding.
Axly, a hybrid, descendant of human and sprygan, is part of the Company on Minalav, a city where humans and hybrids enter into contact. And while on a mission, she gets to know Grim, a soldier who is looking to close a deal for some sprygan weapons; he seems to be the perfect person to help her with the secret that has been tormenting her.
While the premise is not exactly too complex, once we start exploring the world of Norge, and more concretely, the land around Minalav and the Auldtree, we will see that in reality, there's much more hidden behind the apparent simplicity.
"Tell him that Miss Someone has invited you to play the "no one game" when you're alone, and ask him to tell you the rules. His mother is dead, I've no idea who his father might have been. There are people in Minalav who know his appearance and are looking for him. (...) The further from Minalav he's kept, the safer he is. If I can manage to escape and I'm not dead, I'll come to retrieve him when possible."
Talking about characters, it's interesting to see how Axly is being used by Lyons as a way to present her world, to introduce us to the sprygans and hybrids. Being the Starlight Jewel, she is perfect for this role, as she can show us most of the details that wouldn't be possible in other ways. She's such a great character, a friend, but also something scary if you are opposing her; as a hybrid, she wields most of the gifts.
Hybrids in general are one of the aspects that interested me more. They are exquisite creatures, a mix between humans and sprygans, acting as the middlemen between those two groups. A difficult equilibrium to maintain, so part of them work as part of the Company. It is important to note that some of them can erase memories from humans, so this would be a recurrent point in the narrative, as some of the characters will be unreliable in that aspect.
While Grim and Hyde get the spotlight during their arcs, I would say that, outside a character I can't talk about because it would be spoiler, my favourite one is King Henry, because it is perfectly adjusted to his role.
The worldbuilding is extensive, and probably the best aspect of Starlight Jewel. Outside of the Hybrids, we can appreciate how the relationship between the different human factions and cultures is complex and makes the world feel alive. Dialogue is used as the main delivery system of this info, so the pacing doesn't get affected by excessive info-dumping.
The plot is a little bit loose at some points, making the pace suffer a little around the 50% mark, especially due to a time-jump that is not signaled. Even with this in mind, as secondary characters gain more importance at that point, it is not really problematic, and it's compensated with great prose.
While romance is not the main focus of the plot, it becomes important for its advance, but it's executed in a really clean way, feeling natural and not forced.
Starlight Jewel is a great debut novel, and the foundation of a world that I feel has potential. Definitely, if you like your fantasy with interesting creatures, a complex world and you are not afraid of chonkers, give it a try. Can't wait to explore more regions in the next books of the trilogy.
E. L. Lyons
E.L. Lyons is the author of Starlight Jewel. Her first published novel and the first entry in the Gifts of the Auldtree series.
The pseudonym is more for sentimental reasons than anonymity. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Regent University. She’s worked as a pool manager, beauty department manager, relief counselor at a youth shelter and as a live-in caregiver. She hopes to finish her next novel from a loft overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.