Sunday, July 4, 2010

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Pros: Very unique, fun times, phouka!
Cons: I wanted just a little more?

The Bottom Line: If it can happen in Minneapolis, then by golly, it can happen anywhere.

I’m looking into publishing a book of mine in the fantasy genre. Naturally I have to look for suitable publishers. On my search I found Windstorm Creative – but they have very specific guidelines. One of the requirements is the writer of a possible submission must read two books from their list of suggestions in order to get a feel for what they publish. War for the Oaks by Emma Bull is one of them.

I got an old copy (the cover is nothing like the picture) from my library and read with great interest. After all, it’s not often you find a book set in Minneapolis, Minnesota with faeries and brownies running around.

Eddi plays guitar in a band; it’s what she’s known most of her life. But the band pretty much sucks. So it’s quite early on in the book when Eddi leaves the band (and subsequently her boyfriend and previous band leader Stuart). She’s on her way home when she finds herself being chased by a man…or a large black dog…or both. It’s not long before she finds herself caught by him. The “him” turns out to be both man and dog, or at least has the ability to shift between one and the other. He’s a phouka and he’s sought Eddi out for a very special reason. Those of faerie are about to have a war; the Seelie Court vs. the Unseelie Court. The problem is that they’re all immortal so a war is pretty much useless. To solve that problem, Eddi is to grace the battlefield with her presence – and mortality, thus allowing death to seep into things.

Eddi, however, is not too thrilled. Being the mortal for the Seelie Court isn’t something she’s too keen on doing. The people of the Seelie Court are all high and mighty and don’t seem to be much different from the bad guys, the phouka is constantly on her heels being annoying, and members of the Unseelie Court are highly interested in killing her. But with her good friend Carla on her side, the phouka’s protection, and the friendship found in the formation of a new band lead by Eddi, it is her courage, love, and power in music that may save them all.

Good times kiddos. The pull of this book for me was the simple fact that it was set in Minneapolis. Now honestly, how often do you come across books set there? The second pull was Eddi and the fact that she was all rockin’ with her guitar and singing. Not a likely hero in most places – I like unlikely heroes (and I mean somewhat abstract, not “You’re the descendent of the king/sorcerer/etc.” or the stable boy who has untapped hidden strengths). No, Eddi loves music, and the phouka mentions how artists sort of stand on both sides of things; our world and the Faerie world. Makes sense to me! It engaged me and whenever they were playing and lyrics appeared on the pages, I always tried to make my own tune to them and sing in my head, picturing Eddi rocking out with her band. And it’s ironic, but the descriptions were good enough that I had the right music popping into my head for the right time – the book was published in 1987.

The writing is very good. The dialogue was great and I absolutely loved the phouka. Loved the phouka. The things he kept calling her, “my heart,” “my primrose” and all casually, they fit him so well. He wore some neat clothes too – from casual suits to ruffled collars and heeled boots. Sha-zam. Snazzy puppy. There was a lot of description so I always knew what he was wearing.

…In fact I pretty much knew what everyone was wearing – all the time. True, I’m a fan of description, but sometimes I started to think Emma Bull was going a tad bit overboard with the clothing descriptions. I basically got a wardrobe every day, and sometimes I don’t think it was entirely necessary. On the note of descriptions, there were a few times when there was a lot of action going on and I seemed to be unable to quite follow it. However, I do admit that may be partly my fault as I get excited and my eyes tend to jump ahead before I’m done with a particular sentence.

Another problem I had was that I felt like the book was a little anti-climatic. I guess it was because of the bargain that was made – one party won and that was that. The real climax would probably be in the actual music (if there were any to hear) and then maybe I’d be happy, but after one character died after all that was done, I felt like there should have been more, maybe a celebration or some kind, I don’t know. I was just left itching for a little something extra.

I do give Emma Bull credit for doing something I have a hard time doing – killing off characters you know the audience will like (and you probably do too). Still, don’t let that discourage you. It’s a good book and even if you don’t like dogs, you’ll love the phouka, you’ll want a brownie to visit your house, and start wondering if there are fey folk looking at you right now...


Originally published on

Notes from the playlist: "Black Roses Red" by Alana Grace

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