Book: War for the Oaks - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: War for the Oaks
Friday, 20 January 2006 at 12:50 pm
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Author: Emma Bull

Details: (c) 1987 Emma Bull; Pub 1987 Ace; ISBN 0-441-87073-2

Verdict: War for the oaks is just delightful!

Reasons for reading it: rysmiel recommended it.

How it came into my hands: I went on a crazy book-buying spree when I was visiting rysmiel in Montreal, during which I bought a fair proportion of every single book that had been mentioned in two days' conversation. This was part of that haul.

War for the oaks just made me grin and grin, from the first sentence until the last, at which point I stopped being immensely happy and became immensely frustrated that the book is over and there isn't any more to read. The first thing that hooked me is the really lovely language; not overly florid or pretentious, but it made my skin tingle. And then I imediately liked Eddi as a heroine, and then something really dramatic happened at the end of the first chapter. So the rest of WftO lived up to that very good first impression: the writing continues at that calibre throughout, and the characterization just gets better as one learns more about the cast, and the story is really exciting and... *grin grin grin*

WftO does the urban fantasy thing exquisitely well. The urban part works; it's not just set up in the first chapter as a contrast to the more interesting fantasy setting. Eddi is very much part of this twentieth century world, but she doesn't do the cliched thing of panicking and flailing around trying to find rational explanations for the obviously supernatural occurrences. Yes, she's initially skeptical, but she believes the evidence of her senses and gets on with dealing with the situation she finds herself in. And the fantasy bit is lovely; there's solid mythological background, and there's also a really strong sense of the way the faery realm interacts with the mundane world. It isn't trapped in a timewarp of Victorian-style bucolic idyll, but it neither is it completely part of history. I loved the throwaway line about a brownie being really formidable in battle, since doing housework requires real strength.

I loved the emphasis on friendship as well as romance. WftO is rather heavy on the romance side, though; I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who gets annoyed with soppy stuff, or really to anyone male (with a very few exceptions). It's good romance, as far as that goes; Bull does really capture the emotional intensity of falling in love, and I enjoyed the portrayal of the intense, sudden coup-de-foudre as well as the kind of love that arises out of deep friendship. I did get a bit annoyed with Eddi making a big speech about how it's terrible to have sex if it's not for a Higher Purpose, but that's a minor criticism and my annoyance probably reflects my own biases. I think I would have been more prepared to buy the phouka as a romantic hero if I'd read the book when I was a bit younger, but he still does work well as a character.

The other thing that's great about WftO is the structure. I really appreciated the way that the climactic great battle between the two fairy factions happens in the middle of the book rather than at the end, and the book goes on to explore the effects on Eddi's life of having got involved with Faery and become an unwilling hero. The actual ending felt a tiny bit overdone, but the book had to end somewhere and it's one way of handling a secondary climax.

darcydodo, you so have to read this!


Moooood: pleasedpleased
Tuuuuune: Levellers: Maid of the river
Discussion: 12 contributions | Contribute something
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:January 22nd, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
28 minutes after journal entry, 08:21 am (redbird's time)
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Why would you not recommend it to most male people? cattitude is as fond of War for the Oaks as I am.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:January 22nd, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 04:51 pm (livredor's time)
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Hard question, and one I should have expected. I know very few males (not none, I already acknowledged that there are exceptions) who are prepared to read what I would classify as a romantic novel. Romantic in the sense that a large part of the action centres around the development of a woman's relationships with various male figures and her emotional responses to that evolving relationship situation.

This is a horrible generalization, so don't bite me, but I also think that straight fantasy without any SF pretensions tends to appeal overwhelmingly more to female readers than male. Yes, I know that there are lots and lots of books that are hard to classify as definitely one or the other. I'm also certainly not saying that men can't or shouldn't read the sort of book that War for the Oaks is.

It's lovely that you can share books like this with your sweetie! Yay for exceptions to gender generalizations.
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usuakari: default
From:usuakari
Date:January 23rd, 2006 07:11 am (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 06:11 pm (usuakari's time)
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alecto23 lent War for the Oaks to tooticky and I a while back, with the caveat that it was her first novel. I liked it, but even for a first novel I thought it was a little thin. To my mind, Holly Black's (blackholly) first novel Tithe was sharper and better urban-fantasy, and it had romance (of sorts) too. And her pookha beat the one in WftO hands down. I agree about the structure though. I could do with a few more stories that dwell on what happens after the climactic event.

This is a horrible generalization, so don't bite me, but I also think that straight fantasy without any SF pretensions tends to appeal overwhelmingly more to female readers than male.

*blink* Do you really think so? I suppose I could take up the counter-argument that SF (especially the harder sort) appeals to more males than females, but I'm very uncertain about that; and doubly so about your idea. Why not run a poll? I know I read both with equal appreciation.

I even like romance and romances. My only stipulation is that it has to be good. Complex and believable. The stuff written as if the entire world is viewed through a vaseline-smeared lens tends to make me queasy, but I am always interested in relationships between people - romantic or otherwise.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:January 24th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 09:38 pm (livredor's time)
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even for a first novel I thought it was a little thin
Thin in what way? I didn't feel like the book needed anything more, but then I tend to prefer novels that are not ridiculously over-complicated, as a rule.

Holly Black's (blackholly) first novel Tithe was sharper and better urban-fantasy
Shall look out for it, thank you.

straight fantasy without any SF pretensions tends to appeal overwhelmingly more to female readers than male
Do you really think so?

IME, yeah. But generalizations are almost always bad.

I could take up the counter-argument that SF (especially the harder sort) appeals to more males than females, but I'm very uncertain about that
If I'm not thinking about it too carefully I do sometimes mentally file certain kinds of SF as boys' SF. I read it myself though, at least the kind that's heavy on physics (the kind that is heavy on violence and overly detailed descriptions of weapons I'm more likely to skip). I do know a lot more women who read SF than men who read fantasy, but that's purely anecdotal. I don't think a poll would be much less anecdotal, and would probably get me even more yelled at for making gender generalizations! But might be fun anyway. I'll see if I get to it.

I even like romance and romances. My only stipulation is that it has to be good
Well, that's reasonable; most people prefer good books over bad. And there's certainly an intellectual snobbery about romance, that anything based around a love story is likely to be pulp, so many people are put off for reasons that are not to do with gender. (Some people assume that all SF is sub-Star Trek trash too, mind you!) It seems to me that, in general, women have a lower threshold for what's considered good enough to be worth reading when it comes to romance, and men have a lower threshold when it comes to military stuff or SF that is all about "hey, look at the shiny tech!" Which isn't the same as saying that men never enjoy romance, obviously.

I am always interested in relationships between people - romantic or otherwise.
Me too, definitely. My main problem with overly soppy stuff isn't that the subject matter is boring, but that it's really implausible and cliched, so I don't feel I'm learning anything about relationships!
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usuakari: default
From:usuakari
Date:January 25th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, January 26th, 2006 10:35 am (usuakari's time)
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Thin in what way? I didn't feel like the book needed anything more, but then I tend to prefer novels that are not ridiculously over-complicated, as a rule.

Thin the sense that I didn't feel like there was a lot of real history and background behind the story, and in that I was never really left wondering. Some stories and worlds are rich and dense, and story ideas almost spin off each page about how such-and-such came to be or why so-and-so is known as blah. WftO could have felt like that, but it didn't seem deep enough to fall into, or reach out and grab my interest in that way.

I don't think a poll would be much less anecdotal, and would probably get me even more yelled at for making gender generalizations! But might be fun anyway. I'll see if I get to it.

Hmmm. It's a tool. It will give you a small sample, with real numbers. Yeah, being such a small sample it would be hard to draw any broad conclusions from, but I wouldn't regard it as quite the same as anecdotal evidence.

It seems to me that, in general, women have a lower threshold for what's considered good enough to be worth reading when it comes to romance, and men have a lower threshold when it comes to military stuff or SF that is all about "hey, look at the shiny tech!"

I think you're probably closer to it there. I can think of the odd exception to those 'rules' of course, but if you're going to talk about gender-linked preferences in speculative fiction, I think that's a looser and more accurate statement. That being said, I certainly do have a threshold for shiny tech and military stuff - if there's no plot or characterisation, and all a story relies on is gadgets and big guns, then it's still crap.
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rysmiel: wilde thing
From:rysmiel
Date:January 23rd, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:54 pm (rysmiel's time)
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Oh, goodie. *hug* I love it when a recommendation works like that. I like War for the Oaks on several levels, and would agree with the strong points you identify, also that it has to be doing something really well to hold me through that romantic a romance; a level at which it also works is that it has really remarkable solidity of place, and should you at some point visit Minneapolis, there are any number of Minneapolitans of my acquaintance who could point out most of the locations from the book; that's something I very much want to be able to do myself at some point.

Also, all the music in the book is available; I think I played "For It All" for you while you were here.

To an extent War for the Oaks is a founding text of a whole "elves on motorbikes" genre, much of which has less to recommend about it than WftO. Kara Dalkey's Steel Rose is a rather direct response to it, from the PoV of a human in broadly similar straits whose sympathies are with the Unseelie side, and John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time is his usual fiendishly intelligent half a dozen steps from the given starting point in a direction nobody else would have thought up that happens to start with elves on motorbikes [ among other things ] but those are the only examples which I would recommend to you.

Also also, the one place I think the genre in general tends to be weak, and War for the Oaks is not exempt from this, is in the lack of Native American powers on the same scale and level of reality as the European Faerie. [ There are occasional books that do that well, but not elves-on-motorbikes books... this is one of these places where I have basically decided that the only real way to address the point is to write it myself. ]
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livredor: bookies
From:livredor
Date:January 24th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 10:05 pm (livredor's time)
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I love it when a recommendation works like that
*bouncehug* Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention!

it has to be doing something really well to hold me through that romantic a romance
I wouldn't have classified it as quite so wonderful that it's worth reading even if you don't generally like romance. But it is well towards the better end of the spectrum of romance.

it has really remarkable solidity of place
It's talking about two things I have no experience of, Minneapolis and performing music. And in both cases I really enjoyed the descriptions and the emotional impressions, but had no way to judge whether they are actually realistic. To a large extent it doesn't matter though.

Also, all the music in the book is available;
Wait, all of it? Isn't some of it fictional (ie made up by Eddi)? I have to say that if there were such a thing as a soundtrack for the novel I'd be very tempted by it. Which goes to show that the book was very successful in conveying the music to me, because that's a very rare response.

I think I played "For It All" for you while you were here
I'm really wishing I had got round to writing about all that music at the time, because I've forgotten what everything was now. I mean, I still remember the music you played to me, but not well enough to identify it or google for more information.

a founding text of a whole "elves on motorbikes" genre
There's a whole genre? That's just weird. I didn't think that the motorbikes were that important as a thematic element, really, certainly not enough to define a genre!

Kara Dalkey's Steel Rose is a rather direct response to it, from the PoV of a human in broadly similar straits whose sympathies are with the Unseelie side
I tend to dislike stuff that takes evil as sexy or inherently interesting because it's rebellious. But like anything else, if it's done well, why not?

the lack of Native American powers
Interesting point. The whole purpose of the book seems to be reinventing what is basically a northern European myth for 20th century America, though; if it weren't doing that it wouldn't be the same book, I think. I don't think War for the Oaks belongs alongside American Gods (I know you don't approve of the execution of that), for example.

I have basically decided that the only real way to address the point is to write it myself
I have to say that sounds very appealing as a concept!
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rysmiel: third ether
From:rysmiel
Date:January 25th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 01:14 pm (rysmiel's time)
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it has really remarkable solidity of place
It's talking about two things I have no experience of, Minneapolis and performing music. And in both cases I really enjoyed the descriptions and the emotional impressions, but had no way to judge whether they are actually realistic. To a large extent it doesn't matter though.


That it works without knowing the place is all fine and well and good for most purposes, yes; it just really iompresses me how much it adds to the book to see how well it has captured certain real places.

Also, all the music in the book is available;
Wait, all of it? Isn't some of it fictional (ie made up by Eddi)?


My understanding is that all of those songs have been recorded by Cats Laughing, the band which Emma Bull is in.

I'm really wishing I had got round to writing about all that music at the time, because I've forgotten what everything was now. I mean, I still remember the music you played to me, but not well enough to identify it or google for more information.

Well, handwave at me and I'll give you titles and things as need be.

a founding text of a whole "elves on motorbikes" genre
There's a whole genre? That's just weird. I didn't think that the motorbikes were that important as a thematic element, really, certainly not enough to define a genre!


OK, I'm being a little snarky in characterising said genre that way, but only a little.

Kara Dalkey's Steel Rose is a rather direct response to it, from the PoV of a human in broadly similar straits whose sympathies are with the Unseelie side
I tend to dislike stuff that takes evil as sexy or inherently interesting because it's rebellious. But like anything else, if it's done well, why not?


Dalkey's point appears to be that portraying the Unseelie as evil is only one way of looking at that divide, though; Steel Rose very much shows it as a class divide, with the Unseelie as the workers of the world and the Seelie as aristos.

Interesting point. The whole purpose of the book seems to be reinventing what is basically a northern European myth for 20th century America, though; if it weren't doing that it wouldn't be the same book, I think. I don't think War for the Oaks belongs alongside American Gods (I know you don't approve of the execution of that), for example.

Agreed; at least to the extent that I think American Gods was failing at something the conception of the book needed to have and didn't, while the absence of Native American powers is not by any means a flaw in War for the Oaks doing what it's trying to do, just something about the background that has started to nag at me.

I have basically decided that the only real way to address the point is to write it myself
I have to say that sounds very appealing as a concept!


So much to do, so little time.
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usuakari: default
From:usuakari
Date:January 26th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:15 am (usuakari's time)
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Agreed; at least to the extent that I think American Gods was failing at something the conception of the book needed to have and didn't, while the absence of Native American powers is not by any means a flaw in War for the Oaks doing what it's trying to do, just something about the background that has started to nag at me.

It's a real problem, isn't it? tooticky, I and a few others have had long, rambling conversations about how to try and reconcile the myths and folk-loric culture of our ancestors with the land we live in. It's proven to be a very difficult thing to do - so far none of us have found ways or stories that deal with the interactions between European mythic entities and Aboriginal ones that 'feel right'. It's possibly a reflection of the general state of play between indigenous and colonial/immigrant culture generally.

I also suspect that trying to reconcile or relate Celtic or Germanic or Slavic entities with Aboriginal ones is even harder than with North American Indian ones. I'm not sure why, but there are moments when the North American and European ones feel like they could be made to work in a story together (and Charles De Lint's Moonheart springs to mind as an example), but the divide between European and Australian seems almost insurmountable. In many ways invasion and war seems like the only likely way the plot could go, if my ancestors brought their native spirits with them to this land.

So far I think the closest anyone here has got to pulling it off in any way that seems 'right' so far is Patricia Wrightson</i>, but while she writes about the interaction of Anglo people and indigenous entities, she doesn't really cover the interaction between Anglo and indigenous entities themselves.
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rysmiel: space opera
From:rysmiel
Date:January 26th, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 11:24 am (rysmiel's time)
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It's proven to be a very difficult thing to do - so far none of us have found ways or stories that deal with the interactions between European mythic entities and Aboriginal ones that 'feel right'.

That really does sound hard, from what little I know of Aboriginal mythic entities I cannot see the most fundamental elements of the cosmologies co-existing - the Dreamtime together with moira or wyrd just does not work.

I really need to do more research on the mythic entities of the people who lived in Montreal before the Europeans. I think there's probably something more civilised to be done with how they relate to European-derived mythic entities now than there would be in the US, looking at how Canada deals with the First Nations.
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darcydodo: goombarcy
From:darcydodo
Date:January 24th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 11:53 am (darcydodo's time)
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I was moving all of my books around last night, and properly combining all of the books that we picked up from zdamiana when she brought over her dad's stuff... and guess what I discovered on my shelf?

In other news, did you get the e-mail I sent you about the package?
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:January 24th, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 10:06 pm (livredor's time)
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Ooh, ooh, you have a copy! It's such a Darcy book, really it is.

As for the parcel, it arrived today, and I should talk to you at some point about the logistics of getting it you.
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