#SPFBO5 Book Review - WHEN THE ELVES ARE GONE by J.B. Allen

(Title: When the Elves are Gone / Author: J.B. Allen / Publisher: Self-Published / Publication Date: May 12, 2019)

Long ago the races warred violently to a virtual stalemate until a treaty was established between the lands of elves, dwarves and humans.  The remaining elves who were among the most decimated by the bloody war, were enslaved and treated with a significant amount of brutality.  Emerging from this tenuous peace, Stone Deep has become the center of power for the dwarven kingdom and the home of Agonni Grimweller.  Agonni has paid a severe price in those violent conflicts of the past and finds himself a beaten shell of what he once was, losing his beloved wife in the process.

The horns of war have started to blow once again and the elven settlement of Solinthilus is threatened by an army camp that is truly an ominous portent for those who live there.  Is this the final insult to the already battered elves that will complete their annihilation once and for all?  And when a secret power is discovered buried deep within the elven settlement, the powder keg is even closer to erupting as outside forces gather in an eager attempt to capture it and utilize its power for conquest.

Agonni soon finds himself journeying to the edge of his homeland to gauge the strength of the amassing threat and also to determine the demands and purpose of those whose campfires grow more numerous with every nightfall.  Will the humans move against the two races in an act of blatant defiance of the established treaty, or will the dwarves beat them to it?   Most-importantly, who will ultimately sieze control of the power and the upper hand in this fantasy retelling of a modern-day world war?

WHEN THE ELVES ARE GONE is an incredibly dark read.  If you decide to check this book out, please know that going in.  The cover almost suggests a sort of fun DnD type of book, but this is not the case at all.   As the story unfolds, the reader is exposed to unbelievable sadness, brutality, hateful bigotry, and heartbreaking loss.  And it doesn't really get "happier" from there as these characters are put through some of the worst circumstances and treatment imaginable.

The interesting thing about this WHEN THE ELVES ARE GONE is it takes the customary roles of dwarves, elves, and humans, and flips them on their head to test our preconceived notions of how these races have always been portrayed in traditional fantasy books.  The dwarves in this story are highly intelligent and calculating, often holding councils to deliberate on the current conditions of the day.  

The elves, who are normally portrayed as a majestic and dignified race, are depicted as a tortured population who have been enslaved and live mostly in fear of humans who so savagely eradicated the majority of their population.  The humans are often shown as uncaring conquerors and evil to the core, who very often cannot be trusted to be honest brokers.  

All of this is set against a desolate backdrop of impending war that just compounds the absolute grimdark feel to this tale.  There are moments where the book had me hooked and I was definitely into the story for the first half of it.  The mystery of the hidden power was an intriguing story line that lent an air of suspense to what might happen once the dominoes began to fall.  I also enjoyed the political intrigue among the dwarves and humans a great deal, with the elves struggling to survive caught between the gradually squeezing vice of the two.

Where the book went from being potentially great to simply good for me was the time it took for everything to eventually happen.  I was all in with this story when I first started reading it but as I got deeper and deeper, the action just stalled and I kept waiting for something big to occur.  I understand building up the tension but in my opinion the story just lagged for way too long from the middle-point onward.  And when things finally did crank up, I found myself slightly disinterested and disappointed with how it all shook out in the end.

There are numerous things to like about WHEN THE ELVES ARE GONE, don't get me wrong.  And I go back to the creative way that the traditional races are dealt with.  Allen definitely has some serious writing chops as well, which is on full display during the scenes where the characters are engaged in serious dialogue.  Unfortunately for me, it all felt a bit long and meandering for large portions and I had a hard time staying focused.  

If you are looking for a different type of grimdark book, you should most-certainly give WHEN THE ELVES ARE GONE a shot.  Even though it wasn't one of my favorite reads, it may appeal to others who enjoy this type of read.  It has more depth and introspection than most stories of its kind, which could make it an enjoyable read for those looking for that particular style and tone.

(My Rating: 6/10)


  1. Hello again! Another full review, huzzah!

    This review is *very helpful* because I too had badly misread that cover. Looked like a sword and sorcery romp to me, I had no idea it was so dark. That's the kind of thing I need to be pre-warned about.

  2. Yep, it was very surprising to me. Thanks again for the comment Victoria!


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