Book Review: The Elementals, by Francesca Lia Block

The ElementalsThe Elementals by Francesca Lia Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ariel Silverman has lost a piece of herself- her best friend, Jeni, who disappeared on a college visit. She knows it’s her fault- they went everywhere together, so if Ariel hadn’t missed the trip, Jeni wouldn’t have gone missing, would she?
A year after the abduction, Ariel heads to Berkeley as a college freshman, intent on finding any trace Jeni may have left behind. What she finds instead is a trio of grad students steeped in mystery and mythology, serving soma at parties and debating the transcendence of the soul. But like all fairy tales, their midnight revels are only the window dressing for something darker.

And honestly, that was the problem for me. Block builds a world that is lyrical and absolutely lush with atmosphere, and I was as caught up as Ariel in the mystique of Tiana, Perry, and John. I wanted to put on a vintage dress and dance in their visions. The characters had so much of an aura about them, and I couldn’t wait for the revelation of who they really were. In the end, though, the author breaks it down to little more than a drug-induced haze, fueled by grief and mental instability. Both the blurbs and the dust jacket description set “The Elementals” up as a Tam Lin reinterpretation, and while it was, of a sort, I wanted it to end that way. Instead I felt like the ending really invalidated Ariel’s experiences. Of course (if you’ll allow me to get my Religious Studies degree on), there are plenty of arguments to be made for mind-altering substances elevating one to a more spiritual, mystic state. Alternatively, though, Ariel was dosed without her knowledge, and was incredibly susceptible to outside influence, and therefore the quality and inherent truthfulness of whatever she saw is questionable.

I never felt as if Ariel learned anything from the whole lot of it, other than, maybe, don’t drink stuff at parties with a bunch of people you don’t know. Any college student could tell you that. If we explain away what she experienced as nothing more than the delusions of a drugged mind, than what was the point of her journey? Even by the end I couldn’t identify any real character growth on her part.

If you’re looking for modern fairy tales, I have to say, step away from this one. If what you’re looking for is absolutely beautiful writing and merely an interesting enough story, then by all means, get lost in the mood and ignore the rest.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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