War for the Oaks

March 16th, 2005

I had pretty clear memories of folks discussing this book, so I went out searching the usual suspect booklogs for entries. No dice. Turns out I was remembering this old rasfwr-j thread from the pre-booklog days, which I then of course got completely distracted by and forgot I was starting to write a review. Anyway. This is a good book, but it is definitely not a great one, at least not for me and (apparently) a goodly number of people similar to me. It’s one of the books that everybody brings up when the sub-genre of “Urban Fantasy” comes around, and it’s definitely easy to see why. This is a fairy tale, with the Seelie and Unseelie courts, phoukas and brownies, and all the other assorted critters you’d expect. Set in Minneapolis. Or, at least, Minneapolis’ arty, rock-and-roll side. This isn’t just a book about fairies, after all…it’s at least as much about what it’s like to be in rock-and-roll bands of the un- and moderately successful sort. If that combination, or any of its components, obviously, don’t appeal, best to step away early and save yourself the trouble. Eddi McCandry is our narrator and protagonist; attractively pale and delicate, with (at least self-percieved) excellent fashion sense, but a first-rate rock guitarist with a motorcycle license and some never-explained fairie-ass-kicking abilities. So there’s that. She gets picked as a sort of magically mortal figurehead so that the war between the Dark and Light courts of the Fae can escalate to the next level and some serious killing can be done and thus decisions made about the fate of Minneapolis, but she’s not exactly happy with that. The fact that it makes her a target for assassination by magical beings of unpleasant visage and disposition probably has something to do with it, but to forestall her early demise (and prevent her escape) she is assigned as a bodyguard the member of the Sidhe who selected her for the role, a phouka who shall remain nameless. No, really. One of the major characters never ever gets named. He’s described in endless detail, though…his chocolate skin, his curly locks, and his muscular physique are narrated unceasingly in every scene. Picture Prince with the body of a Romance Cover model and the attitudes and fighting skills of Wolverine, and you’ll pretty much have it. In fact, since I mentioned it, you could slap a Romance Cover on this particular piece of speculative fiction and stock it in the appropriate part of the store. This is a romance novel, it just happens to also have fairies and rock-and-roll. It does have lots of rock-and-roll, mind you…but described from the vantage of a musician and a performer. This is not necessarily the same way that the average joe (i.e., Me) percieves music as a spectator, in fact it sometimes resembles it not at all. That I feel Bull did a pretty good job of conveying what it is to make music, and to make music with other musicians who match you and bring out the best of what you can accomplish musically, well, that just means (to me) that she and I must have some pretty similar ways of looking at things, and I could easily see that others might not share those perceptions. Anyway, that part of the book worked for me, even though I’m one of those people who mostly skips over anything in a book that’s arranged in verse. (As an aside, it reminded me a great deal of the descriptions of musical numbers depicted in Brust’s Cowboy Feng’s Spacebar & Grill, which is not terribly surprising considering that they’re both members of The Scribblies, and were both in a band together.) What didn’t work quite so well for me was the Faerie, or at least those parts of the Faerie that we saw interacting directly with the mortal world. Aside from a few misconceptions about humanity, the Phouka barely seemed to be Sidhe at all, which was persistently annoying. Other fairies in Eddi’s coterie are so blindingly, obviously fairies that it is ridiculous that Eddi and her other mortal friends who are in on it don’t get it immediately. Anytime the Fae are in thier own element, they’re well depicted, and the magic as portrayed was interesting and sometimes creepy…but the climactic ending is one of those occasions where the mortal world and the Sidhe are all mixed together, and it all just sort of falls on its face, in my opinion. So…I was entertained by this book, but I cannot wholeheartedly or generically recommend it to you, except as one of those books that is always going to come up in certain conversations. If you like what you hear, give it a go. If you don’t, I’d stay away.

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