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Book Note: Emma Bull, War for the Oaks

I read this book about 24-May-2014. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1987. This note was last modified Wednesday, 28-May-2014 14:01:55 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


One of the earlier and highly influential "contemporary fantasies" (or "urban", before that came to mean romance with supernatural elements). Music in general doesn't mean as much to me as to much of my generation, and fantasy isn't so much my native territory as science fiction is, but this is still one hell of a book.

I haven't read this in ages—not in 13 years anyway. I was assistant camera operator on Will's attempt at the movie in 1994, which was a lot of fun even if the project wan't ever completed. There's at least part of the trailer online, though I remember it as being 10 minutes or more in the version I saw; hmmm, partly it's that the credits are missing.

I had to dig the book out of our library to pose (at First Avenue) for Timprov's "reader" series. So, what the heck, might as well actually read it again.

Suspense novels have people suddenly required to have bodyguards not liking it as a common trope. Eddi reacts somewhat that way, and it's amusing seeing it pulled into another genre entirely. But, especially once Eddi has serious evidence she's being hunted by the other side (the attack at New Riverside Cafe), I think she should be a little more sympathetic towards her protector. But she probably hasn't thought about just how hard, and dangerous, is it to protect somebody seriously.

I've lived in Minneapolis most of my life, so the places that Emma sets this in are mostly familiar to me, from Minnehaha Falls to Como Park to the Witches Hat tower to Loring Park. And even First Avenue, which I dislike so much as a music venue that I wouldn't go see Richard Thompson there (I hear the sound was awful, as I expected). Somehow, Fairport Convention sounded good there twice, but I don't know how; even Oyster Band ended up muddy there, which is when I gave up.

Despite not being a musician, and not having the degree of connection to music that my generation is supposed to have (and I guess all succeeding generations, though I believe each one's music is supposed to sound like noise to the preceding ones), I like the power given to music in this book, and I like the description of the give and take inside the band when rehearsing and playing.

The rules about the fey and "cold iron" don't really become clear. The Phouka doesn't like to ride inside a car because it's an iron box, but has no objection at all to climbing an iron stairway, into a building supported by iron beams. The railing at First Avenue he gets magically bound to when he's a hostage at the end is steel, too, isn't it? (It's a real place, after all; as I remember it, that rail is steel.) And the magic works to bind to it, and he can lean on it apparently comfortably. I'm not saying there isn't a coherent set of rules that's vaguely traditional and in accordance with the examples, but I don't see it myself. There is, at least, no indication of their caring one way or the other about Christian blasphemies, which is some relief.

I like the implication at the end that the band will continue, and thus that Eddi and the Phouka will get some more time. The loss of Willy will be huge of course, but Eddi somehow never mentions what I think will be hardest to live without—his violin.


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David Dyer-Bennet