Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk – and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.
War For The Oaks was Emma Bull’s first novel, and is credited with being one of the first wave of urban fantasy novels. It was recommended to me by a friend while I was looking for standalone fantasy books to read for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings, and once I’d looked it up and found these things out, I had to read it. And I’m certainly glad I did!
Right from the start, this book grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. In fact, the only reason I didn’t read it in one or two sittings is that (grumble, bah humbug) Real Life got in my way. If I have a comfort zone when it comes to reading, urban fantasy is it, and this book was so very, very comfortable. I loved the premise – rock and roll singer Eddi McCandry is chosen by the mischievous, enigmatic and, to Eddi, highly irritating Phouka to play a pivotal role in the brewing war between the light and dark faerie Courts, and thus he becomes her personal protector (cue developing romance!) until the war is ended – one way or another.
The interaction between Eddi and the phouka (we never learn his true name, if he actually has one) is sharp, snappy and funny from the outset, and from their first meeting through their bonding experiences both characters are fully realised, and very interesting. Particularly the phouka, whose mischievous teasing and wordplay delighted me – this is how beings of Faerie behave! In fact, from Phouka to the highest Lords and Ladies (including both Queens of the courts), these characters were pitch-perfect in my opinion. The Queens are suitably intimidating even while they are unbelievably lovely; remote and inhuman even as they come across as fascinating. But let’s focus on the stars of the show here – the relationship that develops between Eddi and Phouka kept me interested from beginning to end, as did the ‘family’ vibe that we get with them and Eddi’s bandmates, Willy Silver, Hedge, Dan and Eddi’s best friend, Carla. Though (of course) there’s more to a couple of those bandmates than meets the eye, and they are not without their secrets …
As a mortal, Eddi is chosen by the Seelie to be their secret weapon, in that her very presence on a faerie battlefield can render the immortal fae susceptible to death. Her first encounter with the Lady of the Seelie, the Summer Queen, was one of many scenes that I loved in this book. The world of the fae that the author creates puts Eddi in a situation where she must be very, very careful what she says – literally, every word out of her mouth is a potential trap or loophole in the contract she puts her name to, so to speak. Right down to the strict no-no where simply saying “thank you” is concerned; this is insulting to the fae, who measure the worth of everything and give nothing for free. A simple “thank you” is considered insufficient payment of an implied debt, and I love that it’s highlighted here. (Yes, it’s geeky, but so am I!)
From there, Eddi’s life becomes a potential minefield – and, as she discovers later, the attempts upon her life from the Seelie Court’s enemies which she knows about are nothing compared to the ones prevented by Phouka, that he tries not to let her find out about. She handles everything that comes her way remarkably well, and I was impressed by Eddi’s personal strength and conviction, and the way in which she eventually steps up to lead, and to take care of, this little band of brothers that she’s gathered around her.
If anything put a dampener on how much I enjoyed this book, it was an early scene in Eddi’s apartment in which she and Phouka are confronted by Eddi’s angry and clearly unstable ex-boyfriend, Stuart. This is a relatively minor spoiler, but the outcome of their argument sees Eddi physically attacked by her ex. With the phouka present the assault doesn’t go very far, but I had less of an issue with this than with Eddi’s own reaction to it – ie. practically none. She doesn’t seem to be upset or angry that this guy just hit her, and seems to take it without even much of a complaint. This just didn’t sit well with me; granted, Eddi wasn’t seriously hurt at all, but she does end up bruised, and I’d expected more anger from her than she showed.
This aside, however, I do like Eddi as a character. Her personal strength is unquestionable, given everything she goes through – and there is cause for tears before all is said and done. She does have a sharp tongue and an equally sharp mind, which I fully appreciate – there are few things I dislike in books more than helpless damsels in distress, especially when those damsels are supposed to be the main characters. Her final confrontation with the Queen of Air and Darkness was one of the more spectacular finales I’ve read in a while.
My favourite character, however, has to be the phouka. From the outset, he fascinated me endlessly – nevermind making me smile, snicker and occasionally cheer. My only regret is that this novel is the standalone kind – I would absolutely love to see more of his adventures, with or without Eddi.
So. This book is definitely going on the re-readable pile for me. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, faerie stories, rock and roll or even all three, then this book is absolutely worth reading.