War for the Oaks (re-read)

I was saying recently that I used to be a big re-reader. In fact, almost all my reading used to consist of re-reading old favorites over and over again. After college, and especially since I started blogging, however, I’ve had a much more urgent sense of how much wonderful literature there is out there yet for me to discover, and I’ve done much, much less re-reading, almost to the vanishing point. Sometimes, though, a book just itches at me, and eventually, no matter how long my TBR list, I have to give in. This time, that was War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull.

Eddi McCandry is a great musician in a terrible band that’s just broken up, partly because she’s breaking up with her boyfriend, the lead guitarist. Depressed about the prospect of finding a day job, she’s wandering home through the night streets of Minneapolis, when a nightmare begins: a huge dog chases her, seeming to foresee her every move; she slips and hits her head; and when she wakes up, the dog has… changed into a man. A phouka, to be precise (you may remember the term from the film Harvey, where the phouka was a six-foot-tall rabbit.)

Phouka (that’s his name as well as his… species, for lack of a better word) informs Eddi that she has been chosen for mortal stakes. In the ongoing war between the good and the bad faerie kind, the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts, no wounds are fatal unless mortal blood is bound to the battlefield. Eddi will provide that blood, and Phouka will be her bodyguard, to be certain that she lives to see the day of battle. Eddi’s protests and attempts at escape are fruitless, and she meets the Queen of Faerie face to face, knowing that she can only use truth and intelligence as weapons, for whatever good they will do her in that inverted world.

But Faerie is not the only world that concerns Eddi. She’s also putting together a band (and I love the name, but it should be a surprise.) The descriptions of her music, of what it’s like to rock out with other people who are really good at what they do, are one of the best things about this book. There are actually a lot of great things about this book — the clashing personalities, the humor, the frightening battle scenes, Hairy Meg the brownie, Minneapolis as a character — but the thing I love best, the thing that makes it shiveringly great, is the romance. I won’t tell you with whom.

When I went to re-read this, I wasn’t sure it would stand up. I haven’t read it for at least nine or ten years. I thought it might be dated or cheesy (and, well, the clothes are, but it was written in 1987, what do you expect?), and then I’d be embarrassed to tell you all about it. But thank goodness, I loved it as much as I did the first time. This is a piece of urban fantasy worth checking out no matter what you usually read. Delicious.

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10 Responses to War for the Oaks (re-read)

  1. Jenny says:

    Do people remember the film Harvey? It is one of my favorite old movies, but I feel like there are so many people who haven’t basked in its awesomeness yet. :p

    I completely enjoyed this book when I read it (last year? year before?), even though urban fantasy is almost never my thing. It was just what I was in the mood for, a lovely, fun read.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m *so* pleased you liked this one! I thought it might be something you in particular would enjoy, but it’s so hard to predict.

      And yes, far more people should see Harvey. Such loveliness. My favorite quotation: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

  2. Kathleen says:

    This is why I love reading book blogs. The truth is I would never pick this book up on my own and feel confident that I would enjoy it. Urban fantasy isn’t a genre that I go for in front of others. But your review and the fact that you reread it tells me that it must be a good book and one to try when I am reading out of my comfort zone.

    • Jenny says:

      I love book blogs for this, too! I’m not much of a fantasy-reader, either, but for some reason I’m kind of a sucker for books about Faerie, so this made it onto my radar, and it’s excellent. Do try it when you want something new!

  3. Kristen M. says:

    My re-reading has sadly fallen off as well. I’ve been trying to change that a bit lately.

    I’ve never even heard of this one! I’ll keep it in mind.

    • Jenny says:

      It’s really such a solidly enjoyable read. I almost felt guilty about it, it was so frivolous and unimproving and fun. :)

  4. I haven’t told you recently how much I appreciate your blog. But I do. Your insights and clarity about the books you read are a godsend to my reading world.

    I’ve been terribly tied up preparing for my fall classes (returning to the college classroom after 25 years away–holy hell!), but you hold up a shining light for what a wonderful, thoughtful, intellectual blog should be and I thank you for it!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  5. Jeanne says:

    I’ve showed Harvey to my kids, even, as part of their cultural education. This sounds like a good book to find and read with an eye to offering it to my daughter, who is moving beyond YA fiction.

  6. Julie D. says:

    I also have found my rereading falling off as I try to wedge in all the wonderful new books I never heard of before. However, War of the Oaks was one of those “wonderful new books” that I read about somewhere and I am so glad I did. As a fairly new reader (within the last year or two) of it, I can tell you that it has aged very well as my daughters agree. Thanks for a great review. :-)

  7. Christy says:

    I rarely re-read anymore, so I can identify with what you say there. This sounds like an interesting book, and I like that it is an urban fantasy from a couple of decades ago – I imagine it will have a different (in a good way) feel from the recent urban fantasy that I have read.

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