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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on April 13, 2001
I have been to Tuscon only once, but Terri Windling's tale brought the Sonoran desert town and its surrounding mountains back to life, stirring reminiscences of the sparse yet magical landscape in which the ever-sprawling and ever-growing urban, and thus increasingly incongruous, city is nestled. Through her words I was again able to travel the streets and canyons of Tuscon and the Rincons, experiencing the heat and dust of summer and sandy, dry washes, seeing again the stately, suggestively sentient assembly of saguaro, the ephemeral, blood-red blooms of the ocotillo. And, yes, viewing the saguaro one can truly believe Maria Rosa's bedtime story that at night, when no one is looking, the saguaro gather to dance. In the imagination, Terri Windling has beautifully and magically captured the Sonoran desert with her prose.
While I in part agree with M. Weaver's demanding yet incisive observations, I cannot concur with the harshness of his final ranking and conclusions. True, the book is to a degree somewhat loose of structure, with elements, such as the characters of the Alders, Angelina and Isabella, Tomas only partially realized, seeming to drift in and out of the narrative as needed, their roles only hinted at and never fully realized or completely integrated. The relationship and purposes of the mages, as well as certain other magical elements, are hinted at, but as often as not never clearly revealed as to their true import upon events, remaining as incompletely visible as the spirits seen in the smoke of Tomas' or John's vision fires. And the death of one of the minor spirits at the end seems largely extraneous. But the author has successfully recreated the mystery and underlying magic that should be sensed by anyone walking the arroyos or mountains surrounding Tuscon, a presence felt but eluding exact perception. Perhaps, as in the best of poems that Windling exalts and draws upon in her narrative, meaning is meant to remain elusive, multifaceted and open to interpretation, echoing rather than stating. I don't believe it was the author's intention to define her realm of "fairy," thus demystifying the world of the spirit, as to provide with beauty a glimpse of its mystery. In this she is entirely successful.
I feel, despite the truth of many of M. Weaver's criticisms, that the reviewer has perhaps turned too academically critical an eye at this work, creating categories---"urban fantasy," "Celtic" versus "southwestern" mythology---that ignores much of the emotional and magical tone that uplifts this novel from the ordinary fantasy however one wishes to define or classify it. The author's prose is sure, descriptively beautiful, and obviously heartfelt. If one is willing to suspend for a moment one's often overly analytical eye, and simply experience the story as it unfolds, sharing more in common with narrative folklore than the rarified or intellectual aims of literate fiction, recognizing the inherent simplicity present in traditional folklore regardless of any psychological or symbolic message often disguised beneath, I believe the reader will discover a wonderful and delightfully recreated version of the modern day fairy tale that captures both the tone and intention of its original antecedents. Nor is this work without its share of hidden import or meaning. Highly recommended and well deserving of its awards---even acknowledging M. Weaver's criticisms, four and a half stars.
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on October 6, 1998
I wasn't familiar with Ms. Windling's work before this brilliant book. It was in the "Fantasy/Sci Fi" section of the bookstore--but it's really more like magic realism. I found out about it because American readers voted it one of the 100 Best Books of the 20th Century (the Modern Library 100 Best poll, check out their web site). I had to go out and buy a copy of the U.K. edition to find out why a writer I'd never heard of was on the list right next to William Faulkner. And I was gob smacked! What a book! It isn't like anything I've ever read before. I thought fantasy was all like hobbits and dragons but this is more like Alastair Grey or Angela Carter or Italo Calvino, in other words surrealistic, strange, intelligent. Filled with folkmore and mythology, some of it Native American, some of it Mexican, some of European and brought to life in a brilliant way. It's made me look at America in a whole new light. I'm recommending it to everyone I know and working my way slowly through the rest of Windling's books. This lass knows how to write!
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on February 2, 1998
This is the first full length novel of Terri Windling's that I've read. For years I've appreciated her seemingly tireless work in bringing us all sorts of fabulous short stories in her various anthologies, and I am not in the least disappointed in her novel. The Wood Wife is beautiful, brilliant, strange and powerful. Anyone who's ever been to Tucson will understand the magic that lives there, and how Windling captured that magic perfectly in her wonderful story. Being a poet myself, I was thrilled at Windling's use of poetry and representation of poets. All in all, an extremely satisfying book, and highly recommended by this die hard fan of Urban Fantasy literature! And congratulations to Terri Windling for receiving the 1997 Mythopoeic Award for this book. Well deserved!!
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VINE VOICEon April 25, 2002
There is high fantasy, such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, urban fantasy as admirably espoused by authors such as Charles de Lint, and this piece, which might be called rural fantasy. Windling mixes elements of Celtic myth, native American folklore, the rarified worlds of poetry and surrealistic painters with the desert setting of the area surrounding Tucson to create a well crafted work of slightly nebulous otherness, an evocation of the mystical, that will resonate with and absorb the reader.
Maggie Black, journalist and sometime poet, divorced but still somewhat in love with her high-profile musician husband, is the main character. Maggie inherits the property of Pulitzer prize winning poet David Cooper upon his mysterious death by drowning (in the desert!). With the idea of writing Cooper's biography, she goes to his home located in the hills above Tucson. Once there, she is slowly drawn into the rhythm of life in the desert, finding beauty in the landscape and the local people, and gradually finding new interpretations of Cooper's most famous poems collectively known as The Wood Wife. From this prosaic beginning, the story slowly adds elements of the fantastic, as Cooper's inspiration for the poems and his lover's surrealistically painted visions of the creatures that populate the area becomes evident.
Maggie's character is well portrayed, that of a somewhat insecure woman slowly finding her own self worth from behind the smothering light of her former husband, finding her own long-buried poetic voice, finding a way to deal with fantastic events and creatures while remaining a practical cosmopolitan woman of today's world. Cooper himself becomes a distinct voice, as we see many of the letters that he wrote when he first settled in the area and was drawn into the area's ambience. The characters of Johnny Foxxe and some of the magical creatures are not so well defined, in some cases merely sketched in for use as plot enhancers, and could have used some further development work.
The descriptive prose work is excellent - it is easy to get the feeling and mental picture of the area, people, and creatures, while at the same time things are not over-described, allowing the reader to fill in his own mental picture.
The eventual story climax is perhaps slightly disappointing, as it seemed to me to derive too many of its elements from fairly well known folk tales, and certain of those elements were really unnecessary, gratuitously added to fill out the story line. But this is a minor quibble to what is in general a very engrossing story that is quite different from the normal, well told, with a definite poetic air that is far above the typical fantasy work attempts at the evocation of faery. And there is a level of meaning beyond the straightforward story line, a fair amount of both psychology and the symbolic, that is also quite unusual in a fantasy work.
Recommended for anyone looking for something different from the standard everyday fare that fills the book racks to overflowing.
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VINE VOICEon September 3, 2001
This book was my first foray into the genre of mythical fiction and what an introduction! I'm hopelessly hooked. I loved the way Ms. Windling wove real people into her fictional story (Henry Miller and Anais Nin to name a few). The haunting beauty of the desert jumped out from the pages and gripped my heart making me want to visit the desert for the first time in my life. I'm a water person by nature (Moonchild) but long to see the desert now and experience it's magic for myself. This book is a poem. No other way to put it. Read it only if you're tired of the same old, same old and be prepared to be whisked away to a whole new dimension from which you'll never want to return.....
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on May 12, 2012
This is the first book I have read that was written by Ms. Windling herself. I am previously familiar with her works as a fantasy anthologist, which I enjoy tremendously. Her rich literary background is eloquently expressed. Most character portraits are excellent and complex, the plot is engaging, and unusual concrete details - such as catching fleas from an animal spirit- greatly add to its sense of realism. Feminist themes are prevalent, though it is difficult for me to understand why an intelligent and mature woman would continue to tolerate the increasingly abusive and demeaning behavior of a childish and psychotic husband because he is an "artist." "Villain" figures appear flat and stereotypic although plausible: some people really are flat and stereotypic. Ecological concerns are strongly present but could have been further integrated into the story. We see suburban sprawl tragically defacing the desert, but how does this affect our characters? Are our characters ultimately heroes or fugitives? One reservation I had was that as a magical detective story its solution can only be understood in an other-worldly context. Another reservation was that its style strongly recalls other popular authors of the Magical Realism school, particularly Charles De Lint. I suspect that presenting Native Americans as nature mystics is our own cultural stereotype.

Still, a good read, especially for those interested in the American Southwest.
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on December 16, 2000
What makes Terri Windling's novel "The Wood Wife" so good? She presents a believable and subtly observed cast of characaters which could form the basis of an interesting novel if set in a mundane world. Instead, she places them in a heady mix of magic, mystery and suspense to produce a spectacular fantasy. Her unerring sense of place, which serves as a theme in the lives of the characters, adds to the beauty of the story. Too many fantasy books that I have picked up recently use the genre to hide mediocre character development. Instead, Terri Windling uses fantasy to transcend the limits of the ordinary novel. I'm hoping to see more of her books in the future!
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on February 4, 2005
This is a compelling book, with characters you come to care about. I found this book quite by accident as I was leaving the library one day. I was passing the last stack of Fantasy/Sci-Fi and saw a book by Terry WIndling, a name I knew but couldn't remember why. (Turns out she edited a couple of anthologies I'd read.) Anyway, I was in the mood for a more contemporary story and the dust jacket blurb drew me in. The first chapter would not let me go.

Windling builds her story with snatches of poetry, bits of native lore, scenes with human characters, and dreamlike scenes with faerie characters. But this is not a faerie story in the normal sense of the words, and the influence of Brian Froud (who also designed the world of "The Dark Crystal" for all you Jim Henson fans) is plain throughout the descriptions of the spirit creatures Maggie Black meets along her journey. This story is part murder mystery, part romance, part fantasy, and all about Maggie discovering who she is and who was the man who drew her into this place in the American Southwest.

I was drawn in quite easily, and I found myself wondering where this all was going, what would happen in the end. And after all, isn't that what should happen with all the best stories? My only complaint is that so much of the final solution to the murder mystery was left to the very end of the story. Sure, some foreshadowing occurred, and Windling certainly gives the reader opportunities to figure out other things (like the true nature of some of the characters), but the solution feels too much like a "deus ex machina". Still, it all makes sense, it works for the most part with all the other parts of the story, and the conclusion is indeed just that, a conclusion. The story rambled only a little, but her descriptions of the Rincons made me want to visit there and see if I could hear the stones speaking to me and see the jackrabbits and coyotes who are not always what they seem.

Another thing this book did for me: It reminded me how much I like to write. Like Maggie, I feel like my life has for a long time been lived for others, and my writing has gone by the wayside. Perhaps I can find my way back to it now. Thanks, Terry.
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on August 26, 2015
This has long been one of my favorite fantasy novels. It is about a woman who moves to the desert to start a new life after her mentor, a great poet has died and left her his home. The desert is full of magic and Native American spirits. She is slowly seduced by the desert's beauty and gets more involved in the mystery she finds herself a part of, as does the reader. Teri Windling writes a novel of poetic beauty and darkness, and I truly wish she had written more like this. It is more magic realism, as others have noted, but whatever you classify it as, it is wholly beautiful. Fans of Charles de Lint and the Mythago Wood series by Robert Holdstock should like this one. I always recommend it as a great book that no one has heard of.
I bought this in hardback to replace my paperback. The book was in good shape and arrived quickly.
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on February 28, 2016
Very fey and evocative for anyone who's lived in the desert, particularly the Tucson desert and mountains. The story builds slowly, magically. Having grown up in Tucson I kept flipping from the book to google earth to remind myself that these places exist. The book is true to the soul of the very special environment and the creatures who live there, with a magical twist.
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