War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

This is the final book in my series of musical magic books, and it just so happens that I’ve saved the best until last!

warfortheoaksEddi swallowed thickly and closed her eyes.
His little laugh startled them back open. “Can it be?” he said with a taunting smile. “You watch the glaistig melt and never turn a hair, yet let me but change from dog to man, and your courage flies away!”
Fury rose up in her, shouldering her fear aside. “Let go of me,” she said, her voice flat and icy. She shrugged his hands from her arms.
“Truly, I mean you know harm,” he said.
“That must be why you pushed me down the stairs.”
“I did not push you,” he said, irritated. “You fell.”

When Eddi McCandry breaks up with her boyfriend and quits her rock and roll band, she thinks her night can’t possibly get any worse. But then she finds herself being hunted through the Minneapolis streets by an impossibly fast dog with red eyes. He is a phouka, a trickster fairy who has decided to recruit her as the mortal force in a faerie war. And he’s also going to be her bodyguard, which means he won’t let her out of his sight, and Eddi’s opinion about this is apparently irrelevant. As the date for the fateful battle draws nearer, Eddi must use all her courage to make sure she and her friends get out of the mess alive. And get her band back together.

Having spent a few months reading about magic based on classical music and opera, it’s nice to finish on a rock and roll high. Here it’s not the music that makes magic per se, but rather the force of Eddi’s creativity and the energy she generates from performing to an audience. The descriptions of both the rehearsals and the gigs are really excellent — doing this series I’ve learnt just how hard it is to describe music in prose, but the descriptions in War for the Oaks really capture the feelings that music can inspire in a performer as well as an audience.

My favourite character is the phouka, who oscillates between being really annoying and rather lovable. I enjoyed the way he talks to Eddi (“my recalcitrant primrose” or “my indomitable snowdrop”!) and their verbal sparring, and he serves as a guide for Eddi (and by extension, the reader) to the world and the rules of faerie, without resorting to tedious exposition. There is also a lovely friendship between Eddi and her drummer Carla, as well as a really touching romance subplot and the best sex scene I’ve read for ages.

War for the Oaks is a sort of cross between Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, which has a similar midwestern-faerie tone, and Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan, who cites War for the Oaks as an influence. However, whereas in those books the faerie realm is something for humans to encounter, like a more unsettling Disneyland, in War for the Oaks the faeries learn from Eddi as she does from them, and grow and change accordingly.

Published nearly 20 years ago, War for the Oaks is one of the books that kickstarted the modern urban fantasy genre, but it still feels as fresh as if it were written yesterday. It is available from Amazon.

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