The War for the Oaks

It hailed here last night. Big ice-cube sized chunks rattling against the wooden awning outside my living room window. I suppose now we’re really going to need that special assessment to replace the windows in my building. *sigh*

Latest book: “The War for the Oaks,” by Emma Bull

OK, first off, I’m not that fond of Faery stories. As far as standard fantasy tropes go, the Fey are pretty uninteresting to me. “Summer Knight” was my least favorite Dresden Files novel, for example. But I waited a week for this book to wing its way to me through interlibrary loan, reading nothing but resume guides in the mean time, so I was gonna read this. Plus, it was recced by you guys.

That said, this book was very well-written and engaging. Very down-to-Earth and yet not at the same time, which is what you want from Urban Fantasy. The characters didn’t really grab me much, nor did the female pov het, and the long, langorous descriptions of Eddi’s band making music got very tedious after a while. And I usually like artistic process stuff.

What struck me as I was reading these passages was the old writer’s rule that you should never have anything extraneous in your story; every word, every sentence should in some way contribute to the whole, or illuminate it. This is a lesson I learned the wisdom of while writing TD. Back in early season 1 when I was still posting from an ancient version of IE, the browser would only let me post 65,000 characters per post, and I had to learn to cut and trim the story down to fit that limit (hey, I thought it was an LJ rule, not a browser limitation). After I switched browsers and had more room, I had already gotten in the habit of chopping and slicing, and when you have that habit, you look hard for stuff you can remove without effecting the story. And I always found stuff that could be sacrificed.

And the thing is? The story always read better after that. Always. A few months ago, I pulled out the first chapter of my old novel, intending to send it off to a woman I was going out with to give her a sample of my writing. I was stunned by how much extraneous crap was in that chapter. For example, in the first scene, one of my protagonists walks into someone’s kitchen, and I go on for paragraphs about everything in that kitchen. A few well-chosen details that showed the difference between that kitchen and kitchens my character was accustomed to would have been sufficient. I wanted so badly to edit that chapter down to half its size before I sent it on, but I didn’t really have the time. I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past three years.

To make a short story long, there were passages in WftO, especially the descriptions of band sessions and music-making, that felt that way to me–unnecessary detail. And if I’d read the entire novel except for the final chapter, I might put that forth as a criticism of the novel. But of course, in the final show-down between Eddi and the Fey and the Queen of Air and Darkness, it’s ALL about the music, and its inner depths and how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and how she wins over the audience with music. So, in retrospect, of course all those long descriptions of band sessions are templates for the final scene (there still may be too many of them, though).

The only real criticism I have of the climax of the story is I was never sure what the UnSeelie Queen was supposed to do that would compete with Eddi. How she was going to win over the audience. That’s never good. It takes the suspense out of a battle if you don’t know *in what way* the bad guy can win.

My only other criticism? Eddi/Phouka? *squick*

“A Wizard of Earthsea”, Ursula Le Guin
“Proven Guilty”, Jim Butcher
“Dreamchild”, Hilary Hemingway and Jeffry P. Lindsay
“Guilty Pleasures”, Laurell K. Hamilton
“The War for the Oaks,” Emma Bull

5 thoughts on “The War for the Oaks

  1. Heh! I read War for the Oaks last year and while I enjoyed the read, it also taught me some writerly lessons about how specific music and clothing references can date a book. Not always a bad thing if you’re trying to capture an era but there were lots of times with Oaks where I was jarred out of the story by thinking “how eighties.” Of course the lesson about not describing outfits in detail was already well learned from any LKH book.

  2. I have only read one of her books, and it was for the first time. It was one of my NY resolutions to read more, and so I’m boning up on my urban/contemporary fantasy, and trying to read a variety of authors, so I’m not really reading more than one book by any given author this year.

  3. The musical references never jarred me. But a lot of bands play “old standards” or have repretoires which include songs from decades past. What jarred me more was the number of songs they played that weren’t their own. I guess bands on their way up the ladder have to do that. Ah, yes, the musical equivalent of fan ficcers…..

  4. I liked War the first time I read it way back when it came out. I haven’t been prompted to try to find that one again. I don’t know if you liked this enough to try any of her later books? Bone Dance. and Finder are ones I reread.

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