Book Review – War for the Oaks

by Rose Hill

We’re taking a break from our Religion in Fantasy series to bring you a book review from a book I just finished Friday.

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull was published in 1987.  Its age is the excuse I give for not having read it before.  I heard about it at CONvergence a few years back, when the author panelists described it as kicking off the urban fantasy genre.  I thought to myself, how have I not read this?  Urban fantasy set right here in my home town?  Yes, please.

But…  This book just isn’t my thing.  It’s not bad, per se–I can see how it could appeal to a lot of people.  But I am not one of them.  I am not remotely one of them.  And that made me sad.  I really wanted to like this book.

The biggest drawback for me is the writing style.  It’s heavy on description, it’s heavy on poetic metaphor, it’s heavy on technical musical jargon.  For highly visual or poetic or musical studies people, this could be a wonderful book.  For someone (like me) who just wanted to read a cool urban fantasy set in my home town, I found myself skimming pages at a time.  (I have this same problem with fantasy authors like Tolkein and Scott Lynch; I’m just not a description fan.)

I was also not nearly as enthralled by the urban fantasy Minneapolis setting as I thought I would be.  Part of the problem is that it’s almost 30 years old.  The book didn’t describe the Minneapolis I know and love; it described something long since gone.  That, I suppose, is the major downfall of urban fantasy.  As it ages, it gets further and further out of date.  For those who aren’t as familiar with the modern locations being described, it would probably be far less jarring.

I couldn’t quite get a read on the MC.  She was just sort of there.  And I fully admit that part of my problem was that I just couldn’t get into the writing style, which likely made it harder to get into Eddi’s head.  But I have problems with a book where I’m not rooting for the MC.

I did root for the phouka.  He was the best part of the whole book.  The phouka made reading this book worthwhile.

The plot twists were predictable, which was honestly more satisfying than annoying.  The dialogue was hard to follow, which was annoying.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that I thought honestly needed more dialogue tags, but here you go.  Eddi and her best friend sounded too much alike.  Without dialogue tags, I couldn’t distinguish who was speaking in half of their conversations.  The other characters all had far better distinguished voices.

Overall, would I recommend this book?  Absolutely.  I might not have liked it, but what I disliked was specific to my tastes in fantasy.  Happily, we have a wide ranging genre, and this might be perfect for someone else’s tastes.

Recommended for: musicians, fans of description in fantasy, visual readers, and fans of urban fantasy.