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War for the Oaks: A Novel Paperback – July 6, 2001
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Emma Bull's debut novel, War for the Oaks, placed her in the top tier of urban fantasists and established a new subgenre. Unlike most of the rock & rollin' fantasies that have ripped off Ms. Bull's concept, War for the Oaks is well worth reading. Intelligent and skillfully written, with sharply drawn, sympathetic characters, War for the Oaks is about love and loyalty, life and death, and creativity and sacrifice.
Eddi McCandry has just left her boyfriend and their band when she finds herself running through the Minneapolis night, pursued by a sinister man and a huge, terrifying dog. The two creatures are one and the same: a phouka, a faerie being who has chosen Eddi to be a mortal pawn in the age-old war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Eddi isn't interested--but she doesn't have a choice. Now she struggles to build a new life and new band when she might not even survive till the first rehearsal.
War for the Oaks won the Locus Magazine award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society Award. Other books by Emma Bull include the novels Falcon, Bone Dance (second honors, Philip K. Dick Award), Finder (a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award), and (with Stephen Brust) Freedom and Necessity; the collection Double Feature (with Will Shetterly); and the picture book The Princess and the Lord of Night. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
Originally published by Ace in 1987, this reprint of a minor fantasy cult classic should attract new readers with its appealing and unusual blend of the world of rock and roll performers with the coexistent world of Faerie. Guitarist and singer Eddi McCandry has just left a floundering band and is organizing a new one when a phouka, a man who at times is a talking dog, becomes her guardian at the behest of the Faerie Folk. Eddi soon finds herself involved with warring Faerie groups, the Seelie Court and its noble queen versus the Unseelie Court, ruled by the evil Queen of Air and Darkness. The Seelie Court has chosen Eddi because there's "power in a mortal soul that all of Faerie cannot muster." Eddi's tart humor helps lend reality. When the phouka says, "Forth to honor and glory," she responds, "Get stuffed." For many readers, the fey qualities of the wispy fantasy may be enough; Eddi even labels her new band Eddi and the Feys. The strength of the novel, however, is in the nonfantasy scenes. These demonstrate a sure knowledge of rock music and the field, and contribute to the climax, a struggle between Eddi and the dark queen at a concert. In an appendix of special interest to fans, Bull (Bone Dance, etc.) includes excerpts of a screenplay version of the book she and her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote. A film appears an unlikely bet, but the author's prose portrayal of Faerie infringing on the real world remains an imaginative triumph.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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For those looking at this book for a teenager, it does have sexual content, but it is very much less graphic and more tasteful than a lot of the other urban fantasy books that have been springing up lately.
War for the Oaks draws upon what’s nowadays fairly familiar aspects of fairy folklore. The Seelie and Unseelie courts, the fey’s love of mortal musicians, creatures such as brownies and phoukas, and so on. However, the story focuses just as much on Eddie forming a new band as it does on her role in the fairy war.
Music plays a huge role in War for the Oaks. Eddi’s life revolves around music and creating music. I’m not much of a music person (to the point where I rarely listen to it on my own), so I think it’s a testament to the strength of Bull’s writing that I enjoyed these sections as much as I did. Let me be clear – I found War for the Oaks excellently written. The descriptions were lush and vibrant, and the dialog snappy.
I’m the wrong generation to have eighties nostalgia, but War for the Oaks did remind me of the eighties movies I’ve seen. Obviously, none of the musical references outdated 1987, but there were also a lot of descriptions of clothes that seem specific to the era. It’s not exactly specific to the time period, but there was also a bit of casual background racism, and Eddie just accepted that Stuart would react violently to the breakup.
My favorite character by far is the phouka, a shapeshifter who turns from man to dog. He’s exuberant and flamboyant, and his dialog for some reason reminds me of a Shakespearean play. I realize only now that I never became strongly attached to Eddie herself, although I did like her friendship with Carla, the drummer in her band. Maybe it’s because so much of Eddie’s life revolves around her music that it’s hard to get a sense of her outside of that?
The climax of the book felt like it was over with very quickly. It was also a lot more vaguely mystical than the rest of the book, in a way that reminds me of Robin McKinley’s writing.
I’d really like to know more about the influence War for the Oaks had on the genre. I know it was one of the very first urban fantasy novels, and I can clearly see it’s touch in books like Holly Black’s Tithe. If anyone ever comes across some sort of essay on the subject, I would love to read it.
I don’t think War for the Oaks will feel particularly novel to anyone familiar with fairies in today’s urban fantasy. However, I’d still suggest it as a well written example of the genre and to anyone interested in a fantasy book centering on music.
Emma Bull's War for the Oaks is one of the most 80s things I've ever read. What screams big hair and power ballads more than a story where the good guys beat the bad guys using the power of Rock? That is the basis of this fun foray into Faerie.
Eddi McCandry's life is unraveling. She quits her band, and in the process also breaks up with her boyfriend, Stuart. Walking home, her outlook is bleak. She's lonely and now jobless. But her world is shattered even more when she's picked by the Fae to play the token mortal in a war of power between the two Fae factions.
The story is full of music and magic, humor and hubris, motorcycles and mayhem. It makes for an entertaining read, and for me, interesting mental imagery. Bull does sometimes bog the story down with a bit too much music description and jargon, and some of the minor plot points get lost in the overall story. I would not recommend this book to anyone who doesn't already have a basic knowledge of Faerie mythos, as Bull tends to just throw out a bunch of names and references which might confuse readers who've never heard of things like Phouka or Glaistig.
Overall, though, War for the Oaks is definitely worth the read, especially since it is one of the foundational works of the urban fantasy genre.
She is my artist, I am her Phouka.
Read it if you ever enjoyed the White Wolf publishing game Changeling: The Dreaming. It's like they lifted the whole book to create the world.
As a fantasy lover, I'm also extremely critical. I find it hard to find enjoyable fantasy reads, and even though this book is dated I love the retro feel. I'm all about the bands she mentions and the whole feel of this book. It's great. It's a fun, fast, and really well written piece of fantasy fiction. If I could give it more than five stars I would. It's probably become my favorite fantasy book, not going to lie (for this genre anyways).
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