When I was studying creative writing in college, there was this sort of pall over the subject of publication. “It probably won’t happen to you,” our professors cautioned. If you’re lucky, they said, you may land a story or two in a literary journal—probably a small journal, don’t get your hopes up. They pushed us to write well, and then to write better than that, but when I graduated I still felt a little vague on what was supposed to happen after we’d polished a story until there was no grit to rub off. Should we frame it? Fold it into a paper airplane and hope our aim carried it toward an interested reader?
But now, nearly twenty years later, we live in a world full of online publications, small presses, rogue print magazines, and self-publishing—all of which combine with mainstream publishers to give authors a spectrum of ways to share their stories with readers. I love this. I love that I get to have anything to do with any of it.*
Because this means that authors like Jenn Discher get to tell their stories the way they want to. In the case of The Elk King, Discher’s first book in her Tales of Animalia series, this is an excellent thing. The Elk King follows the story of Prince Draven and his family, as they live through an uncertain time: rumors of treachery and of a mysterious illness affecting the Elk surface, and it begins to seem possible that Draven may inherit the throne earlier than he’d like.
Discher has published this book with a lot of thoughtfulness and care, which gives the book a hand-crafted, carefully-tended feel to it that I love. And her land of Animalia is a gorgeous place, filled with beautiful landscapes and an assortment of talking animals, each with their own distinctive culture (her footnotes on some of these cultural details are delightful!). Jessica Linn Evans’s illustrations suit the mood of the story so well and help bring the characters to life.
For readers who already love Redwall, The Green Ember, or The Mistmantle Chronicles, reading The Elk King will feel like traveling to a beloved but wholly new place, full of characters well worth your affection. And because this book is the first in a promising series, you can read it with the hope that there is more of Animalia to explore and more to discover about Draven and company.
The Elk King
Jenn Discher (2022)
* In this case, I got to serve as copy editor for The Elk King, which I maintain makes me an extra-qualified reviewer. If I can read a book through three times and come away loving it better, that’s a sure sign it’s a book worth reading and re-reading!