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Book Review: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

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It’s been a little while since I dipped into the urban fantasy genre. Lately I’ve spent my reading hours pouring over histories and memoirs, leafing through the serious and humorous. But in the end I’ve gone back to one of my first loves and I picked up one of Emma Bull’s novels that I’d never read, War for the Oaks. It has reminded me why I love the genre so much.  

First published in 1987, War for the Oaks won Locus Magazine’s award for Best First Novel and it’s easy to see why. A blend of rock‘n’roll and the world of faerie, War for the Oaks is everything a good urban fantasy should be but so many rarely are. I’ve read several reviews stating that War for the Oaks was one of the books that started this sub-category in fantasy fiction and it’s been called a minor cult classic. But what it is, over everything else, is a fantastic book that should be read by everyone.  

Maybe that’s too broad a statement that everyone should read this book but I believe it’s true. Bull’s writing is tight and smooth, lyrical and moving, from the first sentence you are pulled into the story and the lives characters. Few books will grab you like this one does. Few will stay with you so powerfully after you’ve put it down.  

Eddi McCandry is a guitarist and singer who’s just broken up with her boyfriend, left her band, and been recruited into the wars between the Seelie and Unseelie court in Minneapolis. She’s had one hell of a night but on top of all that she gets stuck with a babysitter to make sure she sticks around for the faeries' war. The Phouka, a creature that is able to switch between a man and a dog, follows the reluctant Eddi home.  

Though her life has been turned upside down by the world of faerie, Eddi muddles through as best she can. With her friend Carla, the drummer from the band she’d left, Eddi starts a new band and Eddi and the Fey are born. The Phouka takes on the role of roadie as well as body guard/babysitter, making sure that the Unseelie court doesn’t have a chance to get to Eddi before the official battles. As the war between the Unseelie and Seelie courts unfolds, Eddi is pulled in several directions as once, struggling to find balance and keep her heart whole.   

This is not just a story about faerie but of love and life, death and heartache. The friendships between the characters, the little bumps along that way, all add up to create a believable solid world. Full of 1980s glamour and music, complete with Eddi’s own lyrics, War for the Oaks is the kind of book that becomes a part of you.

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About Katie T. Buglet