Review: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Review: War for the Oaks by Emma BullWar for the Oaks by Emma Bull
Published by Orb Books on November 1, 2004
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 319
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Acclaimed by critics and readers on its first publication in 1987, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks is one of the novels that has defined modern urban fantasy.

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.

For a book that came out in 1987 and that is considered the beginning of the urban fantasy genre (and thus also paranormal, which tbh is basically just UF), War for the Oaks holds up remarkably well. I first read War for the Oaks back in 2009, and I absolutely loved everything about it. The moment I finished my library copy, I ordered myself my very own copy, because I had to have it. As a more critical reader than I was then (blogging will do this to you), I see a couple of minor issues, but I still love this book fiercely.

There’s really very little that feels dated about this book, which is massively impressive really. I haven’t heard of most of the songs that Eddi’s band plays, but some of them could have been made up for all I know. Obviously there’s no cell phone usage, but that’s really only just starting to be regularly incorporated into novels anyway.

Also, it’s amazing how diverse this book is, and it makes me wonder how there’s only a real push for diverse books now. This book has been so influential, and it features an interracial romance between the white heroine a black man. Like, yes, hello here for that.  There is, however, an uncomfortable moment where Eddi (the heroine), apropos of nothing, looks in the mirror and pulls on the side of her eyes to see how she would look if she were Chinese, which O_o. However, that moment aside, the diversity is lovely and very much not token or stereotypical.

Though I’m down for basically any fantasy creature there is, fairies are very much not my favorite ones. Of all the ones I’ve read, I do think this one remains my favorite. It’s less focused on the faerie magic or sexiness, and it really highlights the strengths of humanity, which is pretty cool. The most magical scenes are the ones where Eddi and her band are playing, and the plot, though simple, is fun and fast-paced.

The ship works perfectly, despite involving a lot of potentially problematic tropes. For one thing, the Phouka’s the one who brought Eddi into the whole fae war nonsense, and he’s literally her guard dog. She loathes and resents him for quite a while. She completely doesn’t think of him as a potential romantic prospect for months, because of that disparity in power. I love that she has another love interest in the meantime, with zero shaming from anyone, and that they do not become a couple until long past their power dynamic becoming more even.

From the start, The Phouka calls her a bunch of nicknames, most of which are nauseating but which, from him to her, somehow work wonders. I think it’s mostly because the names started out as taunting but evolved into loving ones. I generally am not into pet names, but, yes, I am so completely here for it. I also love the dynamic between the two of them, the subtle shift from loathing to annoying one another to friendship to romantic love. Bull handles those shifts so well, and Phouka and Eddi stay snarkily bantery throughout, not losing the witty fire when they become lovers.

The other relationship I love in this book is Eddi’s friendship with Carla, who is a total badass. At the start of the book, she quits Eddi’s ex’s band with her. Carla has her back through everything, and she’s smart, funny, and wicked loving. It’s always nice to see such strong female friendships in fiction. Some of the other characters didn’t grow on me quite the way they could have because of annoying accents: Hedge (what even was that accent) and Meg (what even was she saying ever). I do wish I’d gotten to know Dan better and feel his relationship with Carla, but they were cute on a surface level anyway.

If you’ve not read this classic fantasy novel, I highly recommend that you do so. If it came out today, it would probably be considered a new adult paranormal romance or some such, but, whatever the genre labels, it’s fabulous.

Favorite Quote:

It was like him, too, to love her and admit to it before he knew if she loved him. Maybe only mortals expected to barter their hearts.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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2 responses to “Review: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull”

  1. Leah says:

    This book has been on my shelf for years, unread, which is crazy because faeries are one of my favorite fantasy tropes. :/ Hopefully sometime this year I will get to it.

    Great review!

  2. Honestly, I think I’ve checked this out from the library at least twice and still haven’t read it. You’ve definitely got my interest now… third times a charm? 🙂
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