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Book Reviews

"Speculative fiction reviewed with a discerning eye."

Emma Bull, War for the Oaks

Books like this are the reason I tend to avoid fantasy novels. Emma Bull's War for the Oaks has everything I don't like about the genre: stilted fairy dialogue and a preponderance of overblown florid prose.

Unfortunately, there is a decent novel hiding underneath all the garbage. Eddi McCandry is a rock chick who unwittingly becomes selected to be the mortal mascot for a war between the light and dark sides of Faerie. The scenes with Eddi and her friends and bandmates Carla, Dan, Willy, and Hedge are what make this novel tolerable. The music scene of Minneapolis is given some play and makes me want to visit.

But interspersed between these really cool scenes about a rock band on the make are purple patches of fairy-type creatures (each, it seems, with a different style of speech) and their silly little battles with each other. This war they're fighting seems like nothing more than a couple of egos playing "Yes I will; No you won't" over and over again. I didn't give a whit about it and tended to skim those scenes after a while.

A novel about Eddi and her friends would be a fun book indeed, but War for the Oaks was in many ways underwhelming. I don't regret reading it (at least now I know what my friends at Green Man Review are talking about), but I don't know if I'll search out any other Emma Bull novels to read any time soon. Specifically, the transition between different styles of speech hurt my head after a long time reading, and I would have to read something else to take my mind off it.

It's considered a classic of the genre, so if you like a mixture of low and high fantasy, you'll likely find something to enjoy in War for the Oaks. However, if fighting fairies aren't your cup of tea, or if you prefer tightly-written fiction, stay far away.

Charles de Lint, The Riddle of the Wren

I keep looking for a Charles de Lint novel to really grab me. Like I said above, I usually avoid fantasy novels, but I've heard so much about de Lint--and some of his short stories have really struck a chord with me--that I keep thinking if I just trudge on I'll find something I really like.

This wasn't it. The Riddle of the Wren, however, was only his second book so he surely hadn't got his true voice down yet. I really enjoyed the character of Minda in the beginning. I felt for her in her predicament and I rooted for her to get out of it, but about halfway through the book, when the typical "quest" begins, I almost totally lost interest. High fantasy is really just not my thing. People keep saying I should try to read The Lord of the Rings--that it will change my mind--but they also say you have to read all three books to get the whole effect and I couldn't even get through The Hobbit, which it seems to me would be the easiest to finish.

So, anyway, I enjoyed Minda, and her struggles with the sword were fun, especially when she kicks serious butt with it, but the rest of The Riddle of the Wren left me wanting. Oh, well, what's next, Mr. de Lint?

  • ...more to come...