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intoyourlungs

Pants' Books & Stuff!

Hi there! I imagine you must be wondering what the heck is up with my blog name. The short answer is, Pants has become my internet handle in a lot of places where I hang out (somehow). I mainly read YA and comics, and I also frequently read speculative fiction of pretty much any kind. My other hobbies include watching anime and playing video games. Other random tidbits: I have a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and a Masters in Library and Information Sciences. I also have an affinity for tea.
War for the Oaks - Emma Bull (review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)

So, as mentioned above, I read this book for the Women of Fantasy book club that I've been participating in (and loving) this year. This book was already on my "want-to-read" list because of calico_reaction (I was looking through her book club's picks of 2010 and saw she gave this book a high rating) and because I've read and mostly enjoyed The Wicked Lovely series, which is very much in the same vein -- urban fantasy with faeries.

Well, this book is BETTER than the Wicked Lovely series, and was a seriously all-around enjoyable read. I haven't read a whole lot of urban fantasy, but I still have a pretty good feeling that this is the cream of the crop in the genre.

Okay, first off: the relationships! Bull has created some of the most touching, finely crafted relationships between characters that I've ever had the joy of reading. Where to start? The first one that really jumped out at me is Eddi and Carla's friendship. I absolutely love fiction (especially fiction of this variety) that has a female character who has other female friends. One of my hugest pet-peeves in female characters are the ones who can't relate to other females and are surrounded by guy friends and guys fawning over them. This is definitely the case here. I also loved Eddi's turbulent relationship with Willy. Despite having been kind of played by him, she still wants to be his friend, and they both tread down that path carefully. It was also nice to see Eddi not pull a whole woe-is-me thing after finding out about Willy's involvement with the fey. She could've been angsty about it, but she takes it in stride and doesn't let it break up the band, or their friendship. Very nicely done. And of course, we can't forget the phouka. Watching his and Eddi's relationship blossom from dislike (well, this was mostly on Eddi's part), to friendship and eventually to love was perfectly seamless. Their witty banter and arguments were funny without ever coming off as cheesy (though the phouka IS cheesy, but it's intentional and it works towards his charm). For some reason though, a part of me wished that the two of them had just stayed very close friends, though I'm not sure why. They were just such GOOD friends, and made a perfect friend couple. But oh well, I still like them as a romantic couple as well. The overall chemistry between the entire band was also very nicely done. I did get the sense that these guys were a bit of a family even though we don't get tons of on-page time with the supporting cast interacting with each other outside of playing music together.

Another part of the story that I really loved was the importance of the music. I've read other books before concerning bands (though I think I've only ever read YA books of this variety) and there's something that turns me off about them. I find a lot of them come off as pretentious. They usually try to make a point of mentioning all kinds of obscure music that readers will not likely have heard of before, and the characters tend to act holier-than-thou because they're DEEPER than normal people because they're ARTISTS. I'm happy to say that I NEVER got this impression from this novel. Music was just something that all these characters are obviously passionate about doing. I loved how Bull tied the act of performing with magic; I'm no musician, but I completely believe, even in real life, that performing music when you're passionate about it can create a kind of magic and cast a spell on an audience. The music was also integral to the story itself; it wasn't just there to look pretty, which is awesome.

Another point I want to bring up is the balance between the urban elements and the fantasy ones. At the beginning of the novel, I was a little concerned about the lack of fantasy going on. There was the phouka, and one attack on Eddi's life from the Unseelie-court that we see on-page, but for the first third of the novel, that's pretty much all we see. For a little bit, it felt like a whole lot of urban and a dash of fantasy. As soon as the first battle happens though, the fantasy elements really pick up, as Eddi becomes a lot more involved in faerie affairs. This slow integration into the world of fey ended up really working for me; it was like we were experiencing this immersion into this crazy fantastical world at the same pace as Eddi, and it ended up playing out much better than if we were to have just dived right in. The city itself is also very important to the plot; the faeries are fighting over Minneapolis, and there are a lot of real locations that are showcased throughout the novel so that the city almost becomes a character in and of itself, which I think should be important to urban fantasy.

I guess I should get a little more into the fey aspect of the novel. I really liked how Bull handled them here. I've come to associate fey novels with political intrigue and court affairs (mostly due to my reading of Wicked Lovely, which is the only faerie stuff I've ever read, except for Holly Black), but this novel doesn't really deal with that too extensively. Sure, there are all kinds of rules of etiquette and stuff, and they're pretty strict about it, but that's as far as it goes. The fey are a lot more straight-forward in this, as opposed to the scheming, word-twisting faeries I've become accustomed to. These guys don't squabble and play word-games; they're *fighting* to solve their problems, which I find a lot more engaging than court politics. I also appreciated how all the typical faerie stuff wasn't info-dumped on us either, such as the phouka feeling uncomfortable in a car, or why they dislike being told "Thank you".

The last point I want to bring up is how this book has aged. This book was written 24 years ago, but it *really* didn't feel like it (to me at least.) The only signs of its age were the descriptions of clothing (and even that took me a bit to notice), and the music that Eddi's band played (lots of Peter Gabriel, mentions of Prince, that kind of thing). The name of each chapter is also a name of a song, but some of them were Beatles' songs, which are from the 60s, so I don't think it made the book's age super obvious. The writing style itself though felt just as modern as anything I might read today, and there was very little mention of technology, save for instruments, which also helped to cloak the age of this book. I feel like it's really timeless, and will feel so for another good while yet.

Final Verdict: I loved this book to pieces. It was my third foray into urban fantasy (my first two being Marr's Wicked Lovely series, which I like quite a bit, and Holly Black's Tithe and Valiant books, which I'm very meh about) but it showed me what the genre could really be and how it should be done. It's no wonder that Bull, along with Charles de Lint, is considered one of the pioneers of the genre. I absolutely loved the characters and especially their relationships with one another. The importance of the music was a very nice touch and I completely bought into the idea of music being a sort of magic. I loved Bull's handle on the faeries and their world and how they're a lot more straight-forward in this work than other faerie works I've read where it's more about twisting people's words and court politics than anything else. This novel is about a full-fledged WAR which is a lot more engaging and brings about a lot more tension. Also, despite its age, this book has aged incredibly well for something written in 80s. To me, a relatively young reader (I'm 21 years old), this book came off as very modern and didn't read too differently from things I've read that were written a lot more recently. If you're interested in urban fantasy, you absolutely need to read this; I haven't read a whole lot of urban fantasy myself, but this book definitely feels like what I think an urban fantasy *should* read like.