fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review War for the Oaks Emma BullWar for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Anyone who likes urban fantasy should go “back to basics” and pick up this defining classic of the subgenre. I’ve read several books that borrow zillions of plot elements from War for the Oaks, but never reach the same sort of exhilarating heights. Yeah, yeah, we all know the story: young woman wanders the city at night and meets a mysterious stranger, so on, so forth. Now sit back and see it done right!

Eddi McCandry has just quit her boyfriend’s abysmal band, and now plans to break up with the boyfriend as well. But before she gets the chance to talk to him, she gets recruited into a war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, for the heart and soul and magic of Minneapolis. You see, the Fair Folk can’t wound each other in battle unless there is a human there to lend mortality. The Seelie Court needs Eddi in order to make their sparring a war rather than a mere sport.
What follows is a romp of an adventure, as Eddi juggles her new band, Seelie matters, and two very different Faerie men. One will dazzle her with beauty and charm; the other will surprise her with courage and devotion.

The romance is sweet and intense, and feels real, which means something in a world where main characters seem to fall in love solely because one of them is the male lead and the other is the female lead. The relationship unfolds naturally, and I had goosebumps on my arms and a tear in my eye when I read the stormy-night love scene. Second, the romantic subplots do a great job of showing the differences between the human mind and the Faerie psyche.

Ever notice how, in some urban fantasy novels, the faeries are just like normal people, except that they have prettier hair and don’t know how to use household appliances? War for the Oaks is not one of those novels. One of Emma Bull‘s achievements with this novel is that she sheds some light on the way faeries think. What do faeries think of love? Why don’t they like being thanked? Using scraps of lore, Bull creates a vivid view of Faerie culture.

And along the way, she also takes us on a wild ride through the land of rock music, showing us the way a band forms, and eventually, ideally, becomes like family. She captures the exhilaration of performing music, and the magic the music evokes. And as an added bonus, Bull is pretty darn good at writing rock lyrics. I wonder if those are actual songs I could find recordings of, if I knew the name of her band.

War for the Oaks — (1987) Urban Fantasy. Publisher: 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.By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. It’s about real love and loyalty, about real music and musicians, about false glamour and true art. It will change the way you hear and see your own daily life.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.