Onward in the quest for urban fantasy … I suppose I don’t really need to qualify it as “contemporary”, do I? Witchling proved less than ideal, and skimming to the end showing it to be … endless, in the sense of without resolution – meaning “go buy the sequel” I find this reprehensible – a beginning, a middle, and an end are supposed to be three of the requirements for a book, I thought? This had a beginning (a rather poor one), and then was all middle. The preview of the second book was from the second sister’s point of view, which tends to indicate that the third book is from the third sister’s, which tends to also indicate that the second book will not only not have an end, but it won’t have a proper beginning: ALL middle, I’m thinking. Not interested.
It’s funny how similar aspects can be used in two completely dissimilar books. I rifled through my shelves for options, and came up with a short stack, including War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. Wow.
Eddi McCandry is a singer in a rock and roll band that also includes her boyfriend and her best friend, until one early spring night it goes south. Her boyfriend, who has been becoming more and more odd, flips out, their current gig falls apart, and she and her friend Carla finally walk. And Eddi literally walks home… and her life takes a wild left turn when she is grabbed by a phouka to be a part of a war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Faerie. Her presence as a mortal on the battlefield will allow the combatants, otherwise immortal, to be able to kill each other dead (not something I’ve ever heard of in fantasy before, but convincingly presented)… She is taken to stand on the side of the Seelie Court, and of course once the Unseelie hears about it they will be out to kill her as a blow to their enemy… In order to protect her, the same phouka who chose her and snatched her is set to protect her. Day and night. Every minute. For the entire six months the war is expected to last. Eddi is not best pleased by any part of this situation – but, once chosen and revealed to the Court, she has no choice; she is marked as the mortal representative, and even if the Seelie Court let her go, the Unseelie Court would assume it was a ploy to misdirect them and kill her anyway. She’s stuck.
Those are the bones of the story. What the book is really about is want. It’s about wanting what is needed to survive, and wanting what is needed to live; wanting what will make life better, wanting what is not good for you, wanting what you can never have, wanting something which, attained, isn’t what you thought it was… Every person in this book desires something, or someone, or both… Yearning weaves through the pages like the weft of a tapestry, sometimes subliminal and sometimes plainly stated:
A terrible longing swelled in Eddi as she watched [the high ones of the Seelie Court], like a balloon being inflated painfully in her chest. Her vision distorted with tears, and she blinked them quickly away. She had no idea what she longed for, but she felt as if the memory of that glittering assembly would remain with her forever, and the rest of the world would look dim and blurred beside it.
I’m more than halfway through, and – unlike with the last book – both anxious to see how it wraps up and wishing it was longer. I knew by the first page that this was what I was looking for: “Down through the silent business district the mall twists, the silver zipper in a patchwork coat of many dark colors. The sound of traffic from Hennepin Avenue, one block over, might be the grating of the World-Worm’s scales on stone.” Nice. And it gets better. Beautiful, unique characters; tight, lyric yet down-to-earth writing, a view of Faerie which would shock the owner of the “Fairies and Angels” gift shop I stopped into today in a fit of morbid curiosity, but which is, based on actual legend, “accurate” … I’m having a wonderful time. Though I don’t wish I was there. (This book is a wonderful antidote to the feeling of preferring a fictional world to the real one; in this, like in so many others of its type, there is a wild world of magic and Otherness lying just beside the mundane one, and on occasion mortals slip into it in one way or another … and it’s usually not healthy.)
About that store… I was at the strip mall for another reason, which I may or may not go into at another time, and while I was there stopped into this shop and a cheesecake shop. Cheescake To A T – the owner said I’d be back. I probably will. The strawberry swirl cheesecake was phenomenal: cookie crust (not graham cracker), and a mile high, beautifully textured. I could live on this stuff, except I’d be dead in a week. The fairy store… Oh dear. Now, first of all, the twee point of view is always a little nauseating to me, and kind of incomprehensible. Exactly what fairy tales and stories of angels are the people who perpetuate this crap used to? The fairy tales I know never (ever) feature cutesy adorable sweet eensy weensy rainbow-winged darlings. I don’t have anything against the occasional pretty rainbow-winged fairy – I have nothing against pretty for pretty’s sake if it’s done well – – but come on. Read a little. The fae are often beautiful, but it’s univerally acknowledged among the non-twee that it’s a perilous beauty. And angels… at this hour I can’t even begin to get into the theological and spiritual issues involved in this way of looking at angels. Put it this way. In my book, “cute” doesn’t apply to either species. The store in question was sparsely stocked, though what was there was pretty enough, most of it – except that the little “captive fairies” she was so proud of were a little appalling in the context of the place. They were, as may be obvious, little figurines inside glass jars sealed with corks. I want to say they wore expressions of frustration and horror, but I didn’t stop to examine them too closely, so I’d be making stuff up. The shop is based on the idea that fairies and angels are sweet and cute and don’t you just want to squeeze them… So… what’s cute about having a fairy captive on your shelf? In what way does this show you’re a fan of fairies? It’s like saying you love Taylor Swift and having a little blonde voodoo doll with pins stuck in. I hope there were at least air holes in the cute little jar prisons … So, there are trapped fairies showcased in the shop. Are there angels having their wings clipped in the back? Maybe a unicorn or two being gelded? Yech.
Oh, to quote Achmed the Dead Terrorist, holy crap, I feel even queasier: I found the website the things are from. “Come and see The Freshly Caught Fairy Folk …” (Except that most of the pictures I’m seeing on the site are surprisingly poorly lit…) “The Friend Catchers?” I – but – that – oh my God. I don’t even know what to say. Except … so that’s how you make friends: with a net.
They do look dismayed! Okay, I was wrong about the cork stopping the bottles – I didn’t look closely, and that was the impression I had – but still.
How nice: “Freshly caught Fairy Princess holding a wand and available in three dress colours”. The wand didn’t do the poor bint much good, I take it. Ooh, you can get Christmas fairies under glass, too. Charming – because how better to note the birth of the Son of God than by sticking Jack Frost in a canning jar? I’m refraining from using the “contact a fairy catcher” link, but only because anything I say in this mood would come off even more tweaked than they are.
It may be the lateness of the hour, or too much cheesecake, but I’m entertaining fantasies right now of Titania (or better yet, Mab) or Raphael confronting someone like this shop owner. There’s a short story in there.