it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Book # 60: Emma Bull, War for the Oaks

Only a classic of the genre, and one, of course, to which I owe a tremendous debt of personal gratitude--because I doubt very much if Whiskey would exist without the Phouka (and without the Each-Uisge who shows up in a short story linked to Matt Wagner's graphic novel Mage, as well. Also, Brian Froud and Alan Lee's Faeries, which of course has an absolutely chilling pencil sketch of a Kelpie in it.).

Whiskey grew up not very much like his antecedents; he's neither so sympathetic as the Phouka, in the end, nor so elemental an evil as Wagner's version. He is what he is, and he's mine, and he's not the sort to apologize.

But he started encysting in my brain when I met the Phouka and the Each-Uisge, when I had been browsing the Froud-and-Lee book for years, and thought, I would love to write a shapeshifter character like that.

And eventually, I did. I still remember the first words he said to me. She drank me down like a glass of rain.

I never did wind up using that title. Maybe for a short story, someday. I have one about Whiskey that I'm working on called "Black is the Color."

You never know.

A funny thing. I haven't read War for the Oaks since I was in college; I would place it at 1990, 1991 or so. And I had only read it once; I'm not a big re-reader of books. And once I was working seriously on Blood & Iron, I was no longer allowed to re-read that, or Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer, because I knew how much of an influence each of those books had been on the way I viewed fantasy, and on shaping what I wanted from a book about Faerie.

And I needed to write my own book, not just remix Emma and Ellen and Pamela. (And how weird is it that now, fifteen years later, I consider all three of these fantastic writers friends, or at the very least fond acquaintances? The world is a very strange place, and the internets are very small.) So I wasn't allowed to touch their work for a while, and I had read it all long enough ago that I had largely forgotten it.

And I was a much less critical reader then, and a much less meticulous reader, and I am sure I missed a great deal given the speed with which I tore through things. In fact, I was half-worried (when Blood & Iron was finally published and I was allowed to read these books again) that I would find they weren't as good as I remembered.

Well, I've re-read Thomas the Rhymer and War for the Oaks so far this year, and they are, aye, both still quite wonderful. And a shiny new copy of Tam Lin is sitting in my to-read pile, waiting to be picked up and petted.

Here's a funny thing. I'm trying to talk about War for the Oaks here, and all I can do is talk around its edges. It eludes me; it's too much a part of me for me to separate from myself. And of course it's not my book, it's Emma's book, but it's crept into me and contaminated me, in that way that great stories do, and I can't get far enough back from it to get a look at it and talk about it sensibly. I'm all grown into its rootlets and tendrils, as it were.

Here's some things I can say about War for the Oaks. It's a love story, and if it were being published for the first time now, dollars to doughnuts they would market it as a paranormal romance. But it's not just a love story between two people, or three people, or any of the things it could be.

It's something much bigger. It's a love poem, in fact, to a place and a time and a scene that's vanished, poof, like a Faerie glamour, gone in the morning, are you sure it ever happened? Not that Minneapolis is gone, not that its music scene is gone, but there was a time in the mid-eighties where it seemed like Minneapolis (even to those of us on the East Coast) was the center of the rock-and-roll world. Anything could come lurching out of the twin cities at a moment's notice. You never knew.

I used to own a pair of paisley jeans. They were black and lemon yellow. They had zippered ankles. I'm just saying. That is all.

War for the Oaks ia also a love poem to a city. It's a beautiful evocation of place and shape and texture. It immerses, it submerges, it might just keep you under long enough to draw that fatal breath.

It's a hell of a book.

The climax might be a bit rushed. The thing with Willy and Hedge is obvious enough that the half-astute reader will see it coming from the top of the hill with its headlights on. And maybe the Seelie court are a little too human, or quick to pick up on human behavior. And there's a couple of slow spots in the middle, maybe, but I doubt if you would ever get two readers to agree on what they were.

But man, it's one hell of a book. And I owe Emma a pony.

Tags: 52 book challenge, promethean age, this is for posterity, wicked fairies

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