Saturday, November 28, 2009

War for the Oaks

It is curious when a city produces a group of phenomenally talented writers of one genre, because in the normal annals of publishing not all of them would get published. But sometimes networking or talent defeats the laws of probability. I’ve been methodically reading some good fantasy novels by former members of a Minneapolis writers’ group, The Scribblies, among them Patricia Wrede (my favorite) and Pamela Dean, who I understand were more or less discovered by Terri Windling. Wrede's uniquely quirky characters, knack for witty dialogue, and the swift momentum of the plots of her Lyra books never fail to amuse me (read about her here). By the way - off the subject - if you're looking for exceptional literary fantasy, the surreal novels of the American writer Jonathan Carroll - who lives in Vienna and was never, alas, a Minneapolis Scribblie - are exotic and fascinating (reviewed here). (Lightning doesn't strike twice?)

I’m now reading Emma Bull, a brilliant former member of the Scribblies, whose novel War for the Oaks (1987), though it has a bit of a Y.A.-ish feel, is a groundbreaking work of “urban fantasy.” Set in Minneapolis, it mixes the worlds of rock and roll with the dangerous Seelie Court of faerie. Bull’s style is appropriately hip, tough, and honest, as is the voice of the androgynous heroine, Eddi McCandry, a guitarist who has quit her job in a loser rock and roll band and wonders gloomily if she can forge an identity outside of the world of music (will she become a temp?). As she walks home from the bar early in the morning through the deserted streets of Minneapolis, she is stalked and hijacked by a phouka, a member of the alternative Minnesota faerie land who can appear as a dog or a man, a creature who has selected Eddi as the mortal they will need to win a war against the underworld faeries.

Needless to say, Eddi is not keen on this. She and her friend Carla try to escape. But the phouka, who calls himself Robin Goode, proves curiously useful and gradually becomes a friend. He suggest that Eddi, who is very talented, form her own rock band with Carla. And serendipitously they attract some other excellent, if very odd, musicians. They’re on track to appear at an art school gig, but Eddi has to take time out to go with the phouka to fight a war.

Okay, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. But I think the edgy writing would appear to quite a range of readers, including collectors of rock and roll fiction.

Here’s the first paragraph:

"By day, the Nicollet Mall winds through Minneapolis like a paved canal. People flow between its banks, eddying at the doors of office buildings and department stores. The big red-and-white city buses roar at every corner. On the many-globed lampposts, banners advertising a museum exhibit flap in the wind that the tallest buildings snatch out of the sky. The skyway system vaults the mall with its covered bridges of steel and glass, and they, too are full of people, color, motion."

Pretty good, no? She's an obvious influence on Holly Black, a writer I discovered through Amazon after reading the Twilight books! War for the Oaks is not quite my kind of thing - somehow the characters don't seem as well-developed as the characters of the more flagrantly fantastic Patricia Wrede. Eddi is so hard - and seems kind of emotionally numb. Are all musicians like this? Perhaps. They certainly are in the tabloids!

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