Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: War for the Oaks

I picked up this book as it had a pretty cover and I was almost out of new fiction to read.

It was written in 1987 by Emma Bell and was one of the first urban fantasy type books Perhaps it is an unfair comparison, but I didn’t really buy into the world building as much as I have with other urban fantasy. Books like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

The plot centres around Eddi McCandry, a musician from Minneapolis who finds herself chosen by the Seelie Court (read: fairies) to help make their war with the Unseelie Court a ‘mortal’ one. Essentially, with her present at their battles, the fairies can really die. Sounds good, right? But it’s…just…okay.

I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt with references to someone being gay, or black, or that one incident of domestic violence – being illustrative of shit things, that the main characters certainly have no truck with. They are, for the most part, unobtrusive (except for maybe the domestic violence). You get the sense that the main characters are quite bohemian, accepting of many different types of people and just generally good eggs.

I actually liked most of the characters, mostly the band members, that form most of the supporting characters in the book. The problem I have, like with Planetfall and The Book of the Phoenix is with the main character herself. I just don’t find her actions particularly coherent. I mean, she falls in and out of love with people in mere moments. In some cases she’s extremely pragmatic and makes quick decisions, yet in the opening chapter we know it’s taken her a long time to get to the particular conclusion of dumping her boyfriend and quitting his band.

I also find the relative acceptance of the intrusion of the Fey into her life particularly unrealistic. She has one bought of trying to flee and then just basically accepts it. Basically, the complete capture of her freedom of movement by the Fey meant that there was zero dramatic tension. It was too convenient, basically.

Also, I found her relationship with Phoukah (one of the Fairies) extremely obvious but also equally unbelievable.

That was the other problem, everything was so obvious. It was telegraphed from miles away, so when you got to a particular plot point, it was like watching the scenery from your commute – it was expected and not that interesting.

On the other hand, for a book from 1987, it has lots of women. Two out of 5 band members are women (Eddi herself and the drummer Carla), the main antagonist is woman (the Queen of the Unseelie Court), the leader of the Seelie Court is a woman as well. Another incidental character, a brownie (another type of fairy) is Meg, who has a big part to play in the conclusion. There are clear digs at a music culture that sees women as pretty props, which was also good.

So it’s okay. It’s fine. It’s pleasant enough but others have done it better since this book first came out.

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