Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review - War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

War for the Oaks
Emma Bull
Orb Books
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0765300346
336 pages

It’s not often that someone invents a sub-genre but Emma Bull did just that when she wrote “War for the Oaks” in 1987. The book is a pioneer of urban fantasy which I’ve labeled as Urban-Magic-Rock and Roll, if you will. Somewhat dated by the description of the clothes and the musical influences and set in Minneapolis (of all places) it is filled with supernatural and mythological characters and occurrences.

“War for the Oaks” is the story of Eddi McCandry, a musician who finds herself unwillingly forced into the world of faerie which is embroiled in a conflict between the embattled factions of light and dark.

Eddi has had a rough night. Not only has she broken up with her boyfriend but she’s quit her band. Little does she know that things are about to get even more tangled than they already are. On her way home, in a brooding, pensive state, she is stalked by a mysterious man and his menacing dog. Later they turn out to be one and the same creature, a phouka. This shape shifting prankster enlists her as the cornerstone in an ongoing battle between the good fairies of the Seelie Court and the dark and dangerous Unseelie Court, ruled by the Queen of Air and Darkness.

Eddi soon finds herself embroiled in a battle for survival between the two warring factions of fairy-world while simultaneously attempting to reconstruct a new band and in the process, a new life. Meanwhile, her emotions for her stalker take a slow three-hundred and sixty degree turn. Her resentment toward the phouka for dragging her into the war develops into gratitude for his efforts to protect her against the dark queen, and subsequently turn into devotion and then love. The story culminates during a battle-of-the-bands between Eddi and the Queen of Air and Darkness, which decides the fate of both faerie courts, as well as the fate of the supernatural creature she loves.

Pop-Culture, Mythological, and Literature references:

* The Queen of Air and Darkness – A novel by T.H. White originally titled “The Witch in the Wood.”
* The Queen of Air and Darkness – A story by Poul Anderson.
* In Celtic mythology and folk-lore, the wisdom of darkness is often expressed by powerful goddess figure known as The Queen of Air and Darkness.
* Phouka - Variants: pooka, puca - No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the phouka. This may be because it is always out after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms.
* Seelie Court - is a term used in Scottish folklore to indicate a group of light fairies. The Unseelie Court then indicates the opposite.
* Robin Goode - probably a reference to Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck the mythological fairy of mischievous nature.
* Daoine Sidhe - The divine Fairy folk of Old Irish folklore.
* Glaistig - this creature of Scottish Mythology is described as a beautiful woman with dusky or gray skin and long blonde hair. Her lower half was that of a goat, usually disguised by a long, flowing green robe or dress.
* Brownie – is a type of hob or hobgoblin and are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house; a legendary creature from Scotland and England.
* Redcap - A Red Cap or Redcap, also known as a powrie or dunter, is a type of malevolent murderous dwarf, goblin, elf or fairy; they are frequently seen on battlefields picking through the possessions of the dead and wounded.
* Bands and musicians mentioned: Prince Rogers Nelson aka Prince; Peter Gabriel; The Beatles; Kim Carnes; and Bram Tchaikovsky, among others.
* Rowan berries - In ancient times the rowan was referred to as the Tree of Life and the red berries have ensured that it is held in high esteem by many pagan traditions, for red food has been traditionally seen as food of the Gods.
* St. John’s wort - For thousands of years, people considered it a magical herb with supernatural powers, as implied by its Latin name, Hypericum perforatum, which means “over an apparition.” * Local Minneapolis locations mentioned include: Nicollet Mall; Minnehaha Falls; Como Zoo and Conservatory; the Minneapolis College of Art and Design; and at First Avenue.

A word about my rating of this book: I originally awarded this book 4 and ½ stars for character development, readability, scene description and overall style. But because of the creative and unique qualities it represents and its inventiveness I awarded it an additional ½ star for a total of…

5 out of 5 stars

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