The problem with this system is the work the reader has getting through that first book, particular if the paranormal or fantasy element is not one for which we already know the mythology. Vampires: yup, they drink blood (or its substitute); werewolves change into wolves either volitionally or at the full moon (or both), and so forth.
What about sylphs? Anyone? Nope, me neither. All I could think of was the ballet, Les Sylphides, although I see now that there are two ballets and only the La Sylphide version has a plot to explain what a sylph is. (According to that story, the sylph is a forest fairy that can disappear at will or take human form.)
Here's a picture, courtesy of Flickr:
Ethereal white-blond hair, killer bod, and Victoria's Secret satin bustier. Works for me.
But in Lori McDonald's first sylph book, The Battle Sylph, there's a bit more to the mythology. I've only read 20% of the book -- which is rather the point. This post isn't about spoilers or the avoidance thereof, it's about all the front-end loaded stuff you need to learn about the world the author's built. If you've read the book, this will remind you; if you haven't read it, this may be a useful primer.
Our first human character is Devon. He has an air sylph named Airi. (We get the impression later that the naming element -- critical to the ownership and control of a sylph -- is not a choice a person gets to linger over. Which could explain why some of the names sylphs end up with seem a bit unimaginative.) Airi is female but not especially corporeal. No love match brewing there.
Which is the first thing I started thinking about. With vampires and werewolves, we actually expect human/creature romance. ("Creature" isn't intended to be pejorative; I just can't think of a more value-neutral noun that doesn't presuppose humanity.) As soon as a character -- who thinks, feels, connects, etc. -- isn't human, that doesn't preclude a romance but it opens a bunch of questions. Given that every male in romances these days is very sexual, I'm thinking the absence of a body is a deal-breaker.
Nonetheless, Devon and Airi have a nice relationship. Somewhere between having a best friend-who's-a-girl-but-not-my-type-if-you-know-what-I-mean and having a dog. They talk telepathically because, even though it's standard that sylphs be ordered not to speak, Devon is an enlightened owner.
The concept of owning a creature doesn't precisely pin down the historical era this novel is trying to evoke, but in the first few pages, we have a castle (complete with ramparts), trade ships, men on horseback, and a cart. Not definitive, but I'm thinking it's the Middle Ages, roughly. Later clothing choices seem to confirm this. Just picture the movie The Princess Bride and you'll get close enough.
Devon isn't mentioned on the back cover blurb. Only our human heroine, Solie, shows up on the back cover by name -- along with the titular battle sylph she comes to own. The way she comes to own him is from a battle sylph capture gone wrong. McDonald has some fun with this bit, although it's not a nice image. Ordinarily, what happens is a human female virgin is captured, stripped, tied down and then the castle door is opened. In sweeps the battle sylph, then the intended owner kills the sacrificial virgin, names the battle sylph and the deed is done. Mind you, the battle sylph HATES his new owner, but the deed is done all the same.
In Solie's case, she gets snatched on the way to visit her decidedly independent aunt, a baker in a nearby village. Aunt Masha has armed Solie with a knife cunningly fitted into a butterfly barrette, so when the time comes for the idiot prince to kill Solie and get the battle sylph for himself, she stabs and kills him instead. Yay! She's not stupid (of course she's not stupid; she's the heroine) so she's paid attention to the explanation to the late-prince about the importance of naming the battle sylph. After killing the prince, she figures she had better name the creature herself.
"Hey, you," she says. He's been named -- Heyou.
Okay, so at this point, I was a bit troubled. Who used the expression, "Hey, you," before, say, the past 50 years? It sounds modern and even a bit trendy. It does not sound at all consistent with a landscape out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don't expect the dialogue to be in Middle English but it seemed jarring to flash on a snippet of dialogue from Pretty Woman under the circumstances. (Incidentally, I'm wrong. Here's evidence that "hey" as an informal word to attract attention existed in the early 13th century. So at least theoretically the words "hey" and "you" could have been strung together, allowing for accepted levels of transliteration to modern spellings.)
Heyou takes Solie off, rescuing her from the castle. For the first time, we get Heyou's POV and learn more about how sylphs live and operate. It's a hive system, with a queen at the center. Battle sylphs have all kinds of special (if alarming) powers and attributes. (Teeth made of lightning remain my personal fave.) Solie, like Devon, is an enlightened owner who doesn't order Heyou as much as give him choices. We might question that wisdom, given that he can flatten half a village in a fight, but still...
We also learn more about battle sylphs. They are noncorporeal but can take human form. They're male and when in human form know precisely what to do with the dangly bits. They're amorous and unless they have been expressly ordered to do or not do a specific thing, all bets are off. They're all about working the angles and finding the loopholes.
That's pretty much as far as I've gotten -- not very far vis a vis the plot, but a long way in exploring McDonald's sylphian world, necessary first steps to enjoying the story.