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The Uncertain Places Paperback – June 15, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goldstein (The Red Magician) plays around with forgotten fairy tales in this decades-spanning mixture of romance and fantasy. In 1971, Berkeley sophomore Will Taylor falls hard for Livvy Feierabend, though there's something strange about the laissez-faire, eccentric Feierabend family, whose members apparently lead charmed, prosperous lives. When Livvy falls into an enchanted sleep, Will discovers that a German folktale ties the Feierabends' success to sacrifice. To awaken Livvy, Will must outfox the fairy folk, a slow-burning process that takes nearly 20 years. This leisurely, lyrical tale owes much to old school mythic fictionists like Charles de Lint and Terri Windling. The fictional folktale of the Bondmaid feels utterly authentic, but the novel's pacing is off, and there's just too much crammed into a relatively short book. This mostly satisfying story could have been even better with more room to play. (June)


“An exquisitely beautiful, eerily compelling modern fairy tale.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Exemplary.... Goldstein is one of fantasy’s most reliable practitioners, and a new novel from her is always a cause for celebration.”
San Francisco Chronicle

The Uncertain Places continued to surprise me at every page and, as a writer, filled me with raw, disgraceful envy: Boy I wish I’d thought of this one....”
—Peter S. Beagle, author of A Fine & Private Place and Sleight of Hand

“Lisa Goldstein is back and at the top of her game.”
Shelf Awareness

“The arrival of a new Goldstein fantasy is a major cause for rejoicing. And The Uncertain Places does not disappoint.”

“Has it really been nine years since The Alchemist’s Door, Lisa Goldstein’s last book under her own byline? It’s been a long wait, but The Uncertain Places is one of those delightful books that are worth the wait. It combines all the things that I like best about Goldstein’s work: great, believable characters; a well-defined setting (this time it’s 1970s Berkeley); and subtle magic that plays by the rules.”
—Charles de Lint, Fantasy & Science Fiction

"It’s an interesting question that Goldstein poses, and there is no easy answer to be found. What constitutes a ‘happy ever after’ for one person may bring misery to another. Perhaps the stories of one continent cannot survive transplantation to another without being somehow changed in the process. No matter how carefully hidden away they might be, sooner or later, as the territory is charted, they’re brought into the light of day. It’s what happens then that Goldstein has so intriguingly explored in this deeply absorbing novel."
Paper Knife

“Goldstein’s complex and ingenious plot transplants the forest realm of European folktale, where witches grant wishes with strings attached and you’d better be careful which frog you kiss, into the sun-drenched hills of Northern California in the 1970s— and beyond.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

“This entrancing book perfectly captures the subconscious logic of fairy tales—you’ll find yourself believing it all and wishing you could go to these places yourself, with all their wonders and perils.”
—Tim Powers, author of The Stress of Her Regard and The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

“It’s fitting that a spider is the symbol of the elf-struck family in this book, because Lisa Goldstein’s prose is more than a little like a spider’s web: so deceptively simple that you could take it for granted until the angle of light changes and its full beauty is suddenly revealed...a tale as tangling, tricksy, and enchanted as the Fair Folk themselves.”
—Tad Williams, author of Tailchaser’s Song

“From Lisa Goldstein, one of our most subtle and enduring writers, comes this exquisite interweaving of fairy tale and modern life. The Uncertain Places demonstrates that love and the stuff of legends are sometimes indistinguishable and share the same dark bed.”
—Lucius Shepard

“A gripping story that twists with compelling dream logic; Goldstein’s fairy-tale family radiate believable unreality, and the faerie realm contained herein evinces the perfect mix of terror and attraction. Start reading this at your peril; once I did, I couldn’t stop until I was done.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Content and Context

“Goldstein fearlessly rubs the dreamlike logic of fairy tales up against stark realism, and each one makes the other more real.”

“It’s an engaging look at Northern California in the ’70s by way of the Brothers Grimm...a shrewd and satisfying venture down the crooked paths and unpredictable byways of the Otherworld.”
—Patricia A. McKillip, author of Wonders of the Invisible World

“It’s all about family values: ancient legacies, young love, dumb luck, and home cooking. And no one understands better than Lisa Goldstein that terror is a dish best served cold.”
—Terry Bisson, author of Greetings and Other Stories and Number Don’t Lie

“Warning: This book contains graphic scenes of nonconsensual housekeeping.”
The Juggler

“Goldstein is in fine form with a darkly compelling modern fairy tale.”
January Magazine

"Lisa Goldstein is the perfect, born storyteller."
—Diana Wynne Jones

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications (June 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616960140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616960148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein is the story of a family haunted by a long-ago pact with the fairies. Like all fairy tales, it's also a story about human problems, so it's easy to find yourself within these pages even if mysterious beings have never cleaned your house in the middle of the night.

In 1971, Berkeley students Will and Ben go to visit the eccentric Feierabend family who live in a rambling house in Napa Valley. Ben is dating the eldest Feierabend sister, Maddie, and wants to introduce Will to the second sister, Livvy. Will thinks Ben's trying to palm off a less attractive "pale shadow" of Maddie, but when he meets Livvy, he's smitten. As their relationship grows, so do the mysteries surrounding the Feierabends -- and then something terrible occurs and Will must outwit the fairies to bring back his love.

Goldstein invents a long-lost Grimm fairy tale that serves as the trail of breadcrumbs to guide Will's steps. But even if Will does win his way to Livvy, he'll need to be careful; fairies can be tricky about the fine print. The climax of the story is the kind I like best; it forces the characters to look within themselves and decide what they value most.

The prose is spare and the plot zips along quickly, sometimes skipping years if not much is happening during that time, and the result is a short novel of 240 pages. This is the kind of story that could have sustained a more ornate writing style and a slower, saga-like pace. (Indeed, many of the books I want to compare it to in terms of mood -- older books like Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, newer books like Freda Warrington's Aetherial Tales -- are far longer.) The characterization suffers a bit from this brevity, but the plot is complete and self-contained.
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Format: Paperback
This narrative bears some uncomfortable similarities to a certain television series with three charmed sisters and relies too heavily on arbitrary portals which appear at the most convenient times. Though based on the fairy tale tradition, and unique in concept, the author would have done better to stick to the story of the Bondsmaid as a lost tale by the Brothers Grimm. Instead it veers off into Wonderland territory and becomes a whirlpool of characters appropriated from overly familiar fantasy realms. Tangents notwithstanding, the strongest scenes were those of the real world in which settings were unexpectedly altered by faerie magic. Likewise, the prime focus was on a dull protagonist, whereas the most interesting characters were peripheral to the plot. As intriguing as the premise of this novel is, its execution was a disappointment.
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Format: Paperback
A reviewer of Graham Joyce's "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" mentioned this book as a better version of "person kidnapped by fairies with consequences in the real world" So I had to read it.

Uncertain Places definitely fits the genre. A Berkeley undergrad, Will, goes with his buddy to visit the buddy's girlfriend's house in Napa, meets her sister, and falls in love.

Only the mother is slightly vague, and the sisters possessed of a mischievous and devil-may-care air unlike anyone else. Around the sisters Livvy and Maddie, things just seem more exciting and strangely lacking in difficulties.

Then Livvy comes down with a mysterious illness and Will must brave unworldly dangers that seem to come from fairy tales in order to save her.

Will's journey into discovering the stories behind Livvy's illness definitely is a journey into Fairy Tales. Most of this book's fun is in following along and remembering/guessing which tale inspired which character or situation. The plot goes quickly- the removed narrative style kept me from feeling fully immersed in the story until the end.

In some ways, I enjoyed the slow-paced, focus on nuances of human relationship in "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" better. "Uncertain Places" is definitely much more fun. Only at the end, when Will must make choices between family members does it begin to delve into weightier emotions, but by then I was a bit lost in the many characters who appear at the end (various family members of the sisters) and where I wanted more of Livvy and Will's relationship I got instead more snippets of fairy tales.

Don't get me wrong, it was all kinds of fun, but not as emotionally-baring as my personal taste looks for.
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It's difficult to find a theme that has not been used by another author. Take a theme and rework it into a different novel and make it your own. Goldstein does a remarkable job of doing just that. The theme is that of the bondmaid discovered long ago by the Brothers Grimm. So what's it about?

There is an unlikely hero, Will Taylor, Berkeley student, who falls in love with Livvy, a chemistry major who revels in preparing good food because of it. Livvy is but one of three intriguing and unusual women, the Feirabend sisters. Maddie, the oldest, is a beautiful, outgoing individual whose goal is to become an accomplished actress. Livvy is the middle daughter attending Berkeley like Will. Rose is the youngest and her passion is researching the family history.

There are two worlds - a fairyland and the real world. The sisters are connected to the mythical world through a bargain made long ago by an ancestor. That bargain takes a female member from each generation, who sleeps for seven years. Why? To fight battles where no one dies and to dance until exhaustion? To entertain the queen? We never really know but it doesn't seem to matter as we become caught up in the story. As a result, the family has luck - nothing bad ever seems to happen to them. They enjoy health, wealth, and prosperity.

There is action, trickery, romance, and intrigue, cleverly woven into a tale that keeps one's attention to the very last page. When Livvy falls asleep, Will must try to find the key to getting her back and the adventure begins. It's fun, exciting, enjoyable and just plain entertaining.
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