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War for the Oaks

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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 she's breaking up with her boyfriend, 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.

336 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published July 1, 1987

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About the author

Emma Bull

85 books668 followers
Emma Bull is a science fiction and fantasy author whose best-known novel is War for the Oaks, one of the pioneering works of urban fantasy. She has participated in Terri Windling's Borderland shared universe, which is the setting of her 1994 novel Finder. She sang in the rock-funk band Cats Laughing, and both sang and played guitar in the folk duo The Flash Girls while living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Her 1991 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel Bone Dance was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. Bull wrote a screenplay for War for the Oaks, which was made into an 11-minute mini-film designed to look like a film trailer. She made a cameo appearance as the Queen of the Seelie Court, and her husband, Will Shetterly, directed. Bull and Shetterly created the shared universe of Liavek, for which they have both written stories. There are five Liavek collections extant.

She was a member of the writing group The Scribblies, which included Will Shetterly as well as Pamela Dean, Kara Dalkey, Nate Bucklin, Patricia Wrede and Steven Brust. With Steven Brust, Bull wrote Freedom and Necessity (1997), an epistolary novel with subtle fantasy elements set during the 19th century United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Chartist movement.

Bull graduated from Beloit College in 1976. Bull and Shetterly live in Arizona.

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5 stars
3,894 (37%)
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3 stars
1,959 (19%)
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227 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 920 reviews
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 46 books128k followers
October 10, 2011
Oops I was browsing the "recommended because of your shelf" listings and I noticed that this book was not on my lists?! In fact, not on my FAVORITE SHELVES list? I've read it about 4 times so GET ON MY SHELF!

This book was written years before the trend of "paranormal romance faerie crossing into urban environment" became commonplace. If you want to see one of the books that probably helped start ALL this paranormal stuff, here it is. GREAT book for girls and boys alike. I have it in 3 different versions, one day I'll get it signed :)
August 3, 2020

💀 DNF at 44%.

Let’s see, what can I tell you about this wonderfully captivating book, apart from the fact that it’s supposed to be a pioneer of the Urban Fantasy genre? Well, I guess I could start by telling you that’s it’s boring as fish. Not sure what I found most sleep-inducing in this slightly very NOT engrossing story, to be honest: the painstakingly detailed music/band-related stuff, the constant use of appalling song lyrics as filler material (yay!), the positively gripping details about the MC’s fantastically thrilling life (the remarkably entertaining tale about her going bike shopping brought back fond memories of Cal Leandros' utterly gripping car-related problems in Nightlife), or, in grand PNR style, the marvellously abundant, delightfully informative (if a teensy little bit pointless) clothes description (“tight black jeans that bring color to the room,” yay!).

You sure got that right, Bertie dear.

Some ridiculous eccentric authors would have chosen to focus on the Fantasy aspect of their Urban Fantasy story, but Emma Bull obviously knew better than to fall into this nefarious trap when she wrote the book. Why get lost in such futile musings when you can fill three quarters (and a half) of your story with a Big Fat Nothing (BFN™)? Why lose time explaining why the silly fae chose to involve your attractive, slender, clear-skinned, blonde MC in their war, what the stinking shrimp said MC’s role in said war is supposed to be, or what the bloody fishing hell said war is about, when you can go on and on and on about Magnificently Mundane Stuff (MMS™)? Yes, why indeed.

And you don’t want to get me started on the despicably bland, abominably unemotional writing (I suspect the story was drafted by an apathetic barnacle with lethargic tendencies). Or on the slightly horrific pacing. Or on the somewhat soporific plot. Or on the flat as fish characters (they put my favorite herd of ironing boards to shame, which is saying something). Or on the author using song titles as chapter headers. I mean, really. What are we, eleven and a half?

Nefarious Last Words (NLW™): I skimmed through read 44% of this book and still have no bloody shrimping idea what oaks have to do with anything. Which is quite outrageous, if you ask me.

[Pre-review nonsense]

Well that was utterly fascinating.

Full review to come and stuff.
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews279 followers
September 13, 2009
I didn't know what to expect when I ordered a copy of War for the Oaks for one of my GoodReads group. Right now, I have way too many books to read and not enough time to read them. I certainly didn't expect that I'd find a book that I had a hard time putting down and ended up finishing in two days.

As I understand it, War for the Oaks is an early example of urban fantasy. What wonderful urban fantasy it was. I loved the adventure and romanticism, the music and the fairies (don't call them that). Popular music plays a central role in this book. I've read quite a few books that try to integrate rock & roll, but they usually end up being really, really cheesy and imbued with that "isn't it cool to be a rock star" tone. In this case, music and the rock scene is simply a part of Eddi's life and Ms. Bull handles it very well. A few things do make the story a bit dated, like some clothing descriptions and the constant references to how hot Prince is. (I never thought he was.) But, most of the story manages to avoid most things that would make it seem exceptionally dated.

Now, it's really possible that this book doesn't deserve five stars. In fact it's quite likely it doesn't. But, I gave it the highest rating because I loved it and it was great escapism. One warning: this is chick lit. I can't see much here that would appeal to most guys. But, I'm a girl and I liked it.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,360 reviews793 followers
December 17, 2015
Urban fantasy was my drug of choice in high school. Before Goodreads and phenomenal English teachers took their toll on my ignorant bliss, I was perfectly content to base my reading choices on cover designs and dust jacket flaps, the key to my satisfactions being that perfect blend of concrete grit and fantastical malevolence. My tastes will never return to that simplicity, but rather than using that as a reason for forgoing the genre entirely, I chose to feed a favorable looking work to my far more complex quotas. At best, I'd be pleasantly surprised. At worst, my critiquing skills would be left thoroughly honed. Either way, I was confident I'd enjoy myself, on the knee jerk gut level if nothing else.

I was right about the enjoyment part. However much I complain about stock plots and character tropes and the all too common utilization of burgeoning romance to drive the narrative and stopping just before commitment and faithfulness and all that uglier relationship jazz kicks in (love is so unsexy when it lasts forever on), it wasn't too long ago that I flat out enjoyed such things with nary a quibble. Also, I am such a sucker for snark it's embarrassing, and this book reveled in it.

What I didn't expect is to find a perfect example of feminism in all its imperfections. Here we have a female character slam dunking the Bechdel test, but pinning all the real worth and character development on the way men perceive her. She promotes understanding and nonviolence, but only when provoked by external circumstances in a very level-up Mary Sue manner (fits every situation once the situation reveals itself in a dramatic enough manner). Persons of color exist, but so does a great deal of casual racism, culminating in an endnote describing the author adapting the book for a movie and choosing to cut one of the persons of color in favor of expanding two white male character narratives (predictable culmination, anyone?). In short, female solidarity is actively developed (the book flat out talks about women's rights at one point), but there is no application of lessons learned in the development process to everyone else. Also, violence accepted as comeuppance for breaking up with a man. Ugh.

As for everything else. The fantasy was handled well, but compared to Clarke's complete and utter revitalization of the mythos in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, there was nothing new to be found. Also worthy of mention is the fact that the '80's were before my time, so all accompanying references went over my head and had no favorable impact on my enjoyment. The Robert Jordan Syndrome, aka spending sizable paragraphs laying out character's outfits every few pages, a list description method that was applied to anything worthy of visualization to a frustratingly banal degree, didn't help either.

I did laugh, though. That's always good.
Profile Image for Mimi.
699 reviews198 followers
December 28, 2017
So this is the book that kicked off Urban Fantasy?

It was OK, just OK. The narration is somewhat annoying, which makes the characters somewhat annoying, but the action sequences make up for that. I can't fault this book too much, though, since it's the first its kind and therefore, like most pioneering writing pieces, reads more like a lengthy writing exercise than a book.

The story is about a young woman with great musical aspirations--she wants to start her own band—who stumbles across a fae war and gets recruited. She does get to put a band together all the while helping her fae "friends" take back—and this is where I can't stop laughing—Minnehaha Falls for the fae court. It's one thing to read about other cities getting bombarded with and pillaged by otherworldly creatures, but it's another thing entirely to read about your own hometown as a battleground.

Since I mostly read stories set in far off places (and imaginary worlds), it's a little unsettling—in a good way—to dive into a book that features Minneapolis... as a secondary character. I would have to say the experience is similar to a mild episode of meta-awareness; you know you're reading, but you can't believe you recognize every landmark (and street corner) in the book. Who woulda thunk Nicollet Mall is actually a bridge between our world and the fae's? Or that fae factions used to duke it out every night right across the street from where I used to live?

Urban fantasy has come so far from its origins that reading this book is like examining a piece of relic recently unearthed from some lost burial ground. It's always interesting to read the book that started it all.
Profile Image for The Flooze.
762 reviews249 followers
May 1, 2011
War for the Oaks has the distinction of helping mold the subgenre of urban fantasy. Since I’ve already tackled many (many) UF titles, that particular context is lost on me. What can’t be denied, however, is Emma Bull’s talent. War for the Oaks is an excellent example of everything I’ve come to love about the fusion of modernity and magic.

The main character, Eddi McCandry, is a blend of all we hope for in a heroine. In the beginning she exhibits a bit of poor judgment and has a tendency to underestimate herself, but over the course of the book she grows and learns. We come to see her as a straight-shooter with an abundance of fierce determination, a woman who tries to fight for what’s right and inspires those around her to do the same. She’s a likeable character and a true friend, a person who believes in free will and accepting consequences.

The characters surrounding her are each notable in their own ways, but none moreso than the Phouka. Assigned as her bodyguard, he’s often mischief made real - but it’s clear from the beginning that there’s a lot more to him than clever quips and keen fighting skills. He’s enigmatic and eccentric, but endearing; it’s easy to share in Eddi’s growing trust in him.

Many of the powers of the Fae are not clearly defined; Bull picks and chooses which rules to share, so the plot can glide along without the burden of weighty details. She demonstrates respect towards her readers, trusting that we are intelligent enough to pick things up along the way. In light of all the clue-by-fours and info dumps I’ve been subjected to lately, I’m immensely grateful for her polished method of delivery.

(I do wonder how this came across to the audience of 1987. Bull uses much of the Fae lore we now find commonplace: the Sidhe lords, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the Lady vs. the Queen of Air and Darkness, the talent of twisting the truth yet never lying. Today’s UF readers are accustomed to these beings and the basic rules that govern them. Would this have seemed more ground-breaking, perhaps more confusing, to her initial readers?)

Bull’s writing style is pleasant. It’s lyrical and fluid, but never flowery or overcomplicated. Her analogies are marvelous - almost undetectable as they cast the desired atmosphere over a scene. They evoke sensory experiences, drawing us fully into Eddi’s perception and fostering a connection with the settings and characters. Bull understands that small details are often the most significant. She uses this knowledge to greatest effect when describing how two people fall in love: through moments of stillness and unconscious gestures, she recounts the many tiny thrills along the way. This leads to one of my favorite passages:

“Every motion she made was slow, as if she’d never before put her arms around a man, and didn’t know for certain where everything fit. When at last they were pressed close, she didn’t think she’d know how to let go when the time came. They summarized the course of passion with kisses: a chaste, half-frightened brush of the lips metamorphosed into something fierce and fast-burning, which in its turn became a more patient, more intimate touch, full of inquiry and shared pleasure.”

It’s romance that a person who’s experienced love can relate to. It’s the hesitancy and wonder that washes over us in that moment we decide, “yes…this is the one.” To capture it in such a way makes it all the more sweet and realistic.

This down-to-earth style is a defining aspect of the book…which is why I have one complaint about the ending. While every proceeding scene - even those dealing with Fae illusion - is so straight-forward and comprehensible, the final battle lapses into the abstract. We understand what’s happening in the larger scheme, but the particulars are lost amid the frenzy of magic. Having felt so connected to the action until this point, it came as an unpleasant shock to suddenly feel distant from events. I’m not sure if this indicates a hasty wrap-up, or merely my own inability to relate to what Eddi experiences. I wasn’t dissatisfied, but the scene didn’t mesh perfectly with the rest of the story.

That one criticism aside, War for the Oaks is a well-executed book. It’s easy to see how its release in the late 80s would have encouraged acknowledgement of the urban fantasy subgenre. Reading it now, 24 years(!) after it was first published, it doesn’t feel particularly dated (even some of the clothes are back in fashion again). Instead, it’s as thrilling a stand-alone as any current title, with an effortless poetic slant and a fluidity that’s missing from many of today’s debuts. It’s touted as an urban fantasy classic - it’s more than deserving of the label.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 2 books13 followers
June 12, 2023
Part of the problem might be that I went into this book with unrealistically high expectations. I’d been aware of War for the Oaks for a long time before reading it, and I knew it was considered an influential classic of the Urban Fantasy genre. Because of this, I’d already (perhaps unfairly) assigned it some kind of legendary status in my mind. But, just because something is among the first doesn’t mean it is among the best; after finishing this, I was left feeling underwhelmed.

The book certainly does have its good points. The music scene backdrop was fun and at times refreshing; the Fae had an otherworldly feel to them which was interesting to read about; and the prose itself was skillfully written.

But for me, it always comes down to the characters. I couldn’t feel any attachment to them… and therefore I had no emotional engagement whatsoever with this book.

I also felt the novel was really slowly-paced. This isn’t always a bad thing depending on the story, but in this case it often seemed like a chore just to push through to the next chapter.

This might be excellent for the right reader, but it wasn’t for me. I’m glad I read it though, if only as a historical entry in exploring the roots of Urban Fantasy.
Profile Image for JM.
133 reviews13 followers
January 10, 2018
Adult fey urban fantasy. Eddi, a singer/electric guitarist living in Minneapolis, finds herself chosen by the Seelie Court for a job nobody would be especially keen on: the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, whose queens are resident in Minneapolis for reasons that are never quite addressed, are declaring a war for the city. They need a mortal to make the stakes mortal ones.

This is a classic of the genre. I read it immediately after Robin McKinley's Sunshine, which frustrated me to pieces, and my first reaction to this was: Oh thank god, yay. It has a lot of elements that are simply awesome. The Phouka is a really fantastic character, especially in his early scenes, and the descriptions of the fey folk themselves are lively and convincing and imaginative. Possibly the best thing about the book is the use of music, though. Eddi's band is central to the action and ultimately to the plot, and the most powerful scenes are the ones in which they're playing and Eddi's feeling the chords slide and wail around her. It's tricky to infuse a written work with a sense of music, the emotions and the sounds-as-images, so I have huge respect for the way Bull pulled it off.

But ultimately this book wasn't as successful as I wanted it to be. The main reason is, again, the main character. Everybody around her believes that Eddi has something special, she's electric and charismatic and no wonder the fey folk chose her. But Bull never really managed to convey that electricity and charisma. Eddi drives a good bit of the plot, she's not a passive presence, but she's simply not very compelling as a protagonist. Except when she's playing, and even then it's more that she lets us inside the dynamic of the band.

The other problem I had was with the stakes. I didn't really care about the outcome of the faerie war. The battle scenes didn't catch me up. At the end something happens to make this battle personal - one of the central characters is in danger. But ... I didn't care about that character either. They weren't introduced in an especially sympathetic way, and they were never developed enough to make up for it. What really drove the story wasn't the faery war, but the romance. The romance is resolved about two thirds of the way through, though, and after that ... well, I finished the book, and I enjoyed the descriptions and the little details of the world, but I wasn't invested much.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,861 reviews1,358 followers
May 15, 2023
This book is a very strong argument as to why frequent, extended descriptions of what the characters are wearing is a bad idea: not only is it unnecessary, a lot of the time, but it makes the book feel very dated. The fact that the descriptions are of what was fashionable in the late Eighties is even worse: people actually wore that? With shoulder-pads? Oh my. Similarly: ixnay on the awful rock lyrics.

Anyway, I read War for the Oaks because I had heard so many people describe it as a classic of the genre. Liked the Phouka a lot, didn't mind Eddi overly much (she wasn't annoying, though her increasingly Mary Sue qualities made me roll my eyes just a bit as the book progressed), thought their eventual romance made things a bit too treacly. It was certainly enjoyable, and a quick read, but I don't think I'd call it a classic—perhaps more of a pioneer? I've read things by, say, Gaiman, who have taken on the same themes and roughly the same settings, and haven't left me feeling frustrated by things left hinted at or never explored. (Why the hell have two European fairy courts taken up residence in Minneapolis, of all places? What happened to the native magic of the place? Because I can't imagine it not having an existence before us white folks.)
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews313 followers
March 17, 2011
This book has been popping up on my Amazon recommendations list for probably a year now. That, combined with the fact that there's a quote on front in which Neil Gaiman states, "Emma Bull is really good" (which may seem scant praise, but is everything to a Gaiman fan), I finally decided to just go ahead and order it. After reading it, I concur with Mr. Gaiman--Emma Bull is really good. An urban fantasy set in the 1980's, Bull takes full advantage of the time period by showcasing the music and the lavish, ridiculously wonderful over-the-top 1980's clothing (really, other than perhaps the Glam Rock period of the 1970's, there's no other time period in which a story such as this would work to such effect). Eddi is a musician chosen by the fey to be the mortal who will bring death to the battlefield in the Seelie Court's battle against the Unseelie Court (who will bring darkness and gloom to the city should they triumph). Bull draws heavily on the folktales of Ireland and Scotland and her faeries are wonderful creatures--seldom completely good or evil, but always looking to bend events to their favor with no regard to the consequences brought upon others. My favorites include Hairy Meg (a brownie from Scotland who brought her thick brogue and cantankerous temper with her) and the hilariously mischievous phouka who serves as Eddi's bodyguard. You can practically see these faeries as they may have been imagined by Jim Henson or Brian Froud. Overall, my only criticism is that the ending seemed a little anticlimatic (it did seem a little too easy to defeat the Queen of Air and Darkness) and shifts in time periods weren't always made clear. Other than that, an excellent book.
Profile Image for Einav.
121 reviews26 followers
April 16, 2018
הציון האמיתי הוא 4.5, אבל איזה יופי של ספר! אני מבינה למה ניל גיימן כתב על אמה בול שהיא "ממש ממש טובה".
כבר לא מעט זמן שקלתי לקרוא אותו. בתור חובבת מושבעת של פנטזיה אורבאנית, לא יכולתי להרשות לעצמי לא לקרוא את אחד מאבני היסוד בז'אנר, זה שהיווה בסיס לרוב הספרים בתחום. אבל העובדה שהוא ראה אור ב-1987, העטיפה המוזרה, והשם המעט כבד - הרחיקו אותי כל הזמן לספרים אחרים. וכשסוף סוף הרמתי אותו - הבנתי שטעיתי ברושם שקיבלתי. ראשית כל - הספר קליל. אדי, מוזיקאית בחסד, זורקת את החבר הדוחה שלה קיבינימאט, רק כדי לגלות שהיא נרדפת בשעת לילה, ברחובות החשוכים על ידי כלב שחור וגדול. הכלב השחור הוא הכל רק לא
כלב, ומכאן מתחיל סיפור שבו אדי מגלה שהיא נבחרה לשמש כפיון במלחמה העתיקה שבין הסילי לאנסילי קורט.

הקלילות של הספר עומדת בסתירה לכתיבה הנפלאה שעשירה ברגישות ובמינימליזם נהדר. גוף שלישי מצוין ועלילה שלמרות פשטותה - שומרת על רמה

מה אהבתי?

* את הפיות! התייחסות נכונה ונאמנה למיתולוגיה של הפיי, על האכזריות והיופי של היצורים האלו. 2 חצרות. חשש מברזל. אי יכולת לשקר. בקיצור - כמו שצריך.

* את סיפור האהבה - "הפוקה" הוא אחת הדמויות השובות לב שיצא לי לקרוא. מלא בחן!

* את המוזיקה! הסיפור עושה חסד לאוהבי מוזיקה, מתייחס למקומה בסיפור ולא מניח אותה רק כי זו תבנית, אלא באמת נותן לה מקום נרחב.

* את האייטיז - גאד דמט, איזה בלאסט טו דה פאסט.

פחות אהבתי: הסוף היה מעט אנטי קליימקסי. זה לא ספר של סערה, זה ספר של חמימות. אבל מי אמר שזה דבר רע? ובכל זאת אמה בול עשתה פה עבודה מצוינת, ואני מפרגנת באהבה ובהערכה.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,813 reviews418 followers
April 19, 2018
Apparently a debut novel by the author. Apparently, too, an early (1987) entry in the Urban Fantasy genre.

Brilliant in many ways. Creative. Exciting. Thought-provoking. Fun, and sometimes funny, With some romance, some heavy-duty magical battles, and lots and lots of music. And lots of Minneapolis.

Eddi is a strong woman in many ways. She knows how to lead a band, to ride a motorcycle, to buck tradition, to kick ass, to date on her own terms. She's almost too good to be true but moments of vulnerability made this reader believe in her, and love her.

Perfect, imo, for this new "New Adult" classification in that it's a bit like a YA book but more interesting than most of those. The characters are in their 20s, mostly. Lots of descriptions of wonderful fashion choices.

Just one thing about the blurb on the back of the edition that I read. where it says "her boyfriend just dumped her" it is so wrong it's not funny. I think some male chauvinist must have written that bit!

(And I see that the GR blurb has that, too; I'll have to fix that.)
(Read for a Strong Women challenge.)
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
July 20, 2018
Reading this was like meeting the grandmother of October Daye and Kate Daniels. Knowing it was one of the early books to really make urban fantasy a thing, per Naomi Alderman’s introduction, it’s amazing how fresh it must have felt back then — it stood up pretty well now, but I found some aspects of it predictable because I know later books in the genre. So many of the elements were in place as far back as this. I had a lot of fun, and the descriptions of Eddi’s band and the way they play, the fun they have, are really infectious. It’s surprisingly vivid, even for me (and I don’t have a visual imagination at all!).

Likewise, the plot with Faerie and even the character arc of the phouka are all fairly obvious if you’ve been hanging around in urban fantasy — but it’s still well done and Bull does a great job of making her faeries genuinely strange, genuinely different to the humans they interact with.

All in all, a lot of fun, and I recommend it, especially for those who enjoy urban fantasy, but not only for them!
Profile Image for Sandra .
1,142 reviews124 followers
October 23, 2010
4.5 stars

I understand this book was a pioneer in the urban fantasy world. One could only wish that the subsequent urban fantasy was as good.

At first it felt tired and old hat to me, but gradually, Emma Bull's world and characters began to build and before you know it, I was enchanted.

It's a tour de force of music, magic, honor, courage, and love. The Pouka is the most endearing and lovable character I've come across in a long time. Eddi's character gradually develops depth and the story takes off. The peripheral characters are delightful. Willy Silver is a true tragic hero. I'm smiling and happy.
Profile Image for Vered.
123 reviews19 followers
July 15, 2010
Yep, still excellent! With it's wit, warmth, great characters and a story that gets you hooked, instantly.
Faeries, a chosen mortal, a fight between good (of sort) and evil, a lot of Rock'n'Roll and one sexy, irresistible Phouka.

I love it!

b/w the book was written in the 80's. References, clothes, songs. A trip down memory lane :)

Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,250 reviews73 followers
September 21, 2018
This is the way writing should be -- clear, lyrical, smooth. A tight plot that still leaves plenty of room for character development.

An "off-the-bookshelf" Monopoly move.
SRC 2018 'TUM' (Fall) Task 15.3 Let's Play!
Title initials found in "sTar Wars actiOn Figures"
Author initials found in "Easy-Bake oven"
(Did not check for other possible tasks)
Profile Image for Erika Gill.
297 reviews20 followers
April 29, 2011
I wish I understood the hype this book has commanded for over twenty years, but I can't. I also wish I'd heard of at least half of the songs mentioned (stuffed, more like) in it. Unfortunately, Emma Bull was under the impression that the more contemporary hip iconic culture she shoved down the throats of her readers, the better it would be. In doing this, and shamelessly using her own (poor) lyrics as filler, she managed to completely neglect her writing.

I can't even recall how many times I had to exclaim "REALLY?" before I lost my voice to disgust and just started gagging. Probably right around the point where Carla, a completely flat character seemingly designed by a schizophrenic, says "No one is cuter than Prince." Or maybe it was Eddi who said that. Whatever, the two were completely interchangeable, which is made worse by the fact that Eddi is THE MFING PROTAGONIST. Gahh!!! Whyyy????? So...painfully...bad.

DO NOT get me started on the phouka's dialog. Or the extensive descriptions of his (and everyone's) clothes (WTF, even 80s doesn't explain that away) and his hair, which, from the repetitive and unimaginative description was obviously a Jheri curl.

Don't get me wrong, I can totally see the influence this book had on fantasy, and am willing to accept that it is a pioneer of the urban fantasy sub-genre, but I can only praise subsequent writers for redeeming it from the awful depths War for the Oaks set it at. Even writers like Laurell K. Hamilton, who can at least make the outfits easy to envision (that is not an endorsement of rabid "let's get dressed up!" chapters in fantasy).
Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,043 followers
December 7, 2010
It is astonishing to think that Minneapolis was the center of the Faerie world in 1987. Who would of thought?!?

And yet, Emma Bull’s absorbing novel provides eloquent testimony to the centrality of the City of Lakes to the Fey World.

Undoubtedly there is some important event that transpired in the next decade, since by 2000 the Dresden Files are evidence that Chicago is the place to be.

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I didn’t realize for a while that this book was written so long ago. I was enjoying the retro nature of the bands mentioned and the clothing styles, but then suddenly realized a character had just ducked into a phone booth. How quaint! Oh: no cell phones, no computers, and despite this being a rock ‘n’ roll band story, somehow the whole grunge movement never got mentioned? Finally, I looked at the publication date and realized why half the references were to punk and the other half to the new romantics. (But no Adam and the Ants. Quite surprising.) All the male faeries are described like they stepped out of a Prince music video, and the lead character apparently dresses like Stevie Nicks.

In any event, War for the Oaks is an excellent urban fantasy.

Strongly recommended.
Profile Image for Chadwick.
306 reviews4 followers
July 26, 2008
This book is probably pretty awesome if you are a 14 year-old girl with black nail polish. For me though, the only reason I'm giving it two stars rather than none is a sort of sweet enthusiasm for her characters and theme that the author manages to project, despite her crap hand with plot and characterization. It's a novel of fairy (faeraiye? Doesn't it seem that the blacker the nail polish, the more vowels should go in that word?) warfare, with a rock-n-rollin' Minnesotan named Eddi as the mortal lynchpin for the good guys. Along the way, a pooka gets screwed, some awful 80s rock lyrics are suffered through while all the while no character really does anything that makes sense. Motivations and character development are really arbitrary, and exactly what the protagonist lends to her supernatural allies is completely uncertain. The fetishistic detailing of Eddi's outfits, and of her band's Awesome Gear! is tedious, and gives the whole project a pall of wish-fulfillment fantasy, which is totally fine, but doesn't really appeal to me. Which really means that I should not pick up books that Neil Gaiman says are great. Or I should start wearing fishnets on my arms and see if anything changes.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
July 25, 2016
First half two stars, second half four stars. I am definitely not the target audience for this. I don't like UF, I don't like faeries, and... I thought the music would be a saving grace because that's something I do love, but I still wasn't really getting into that portion.

A friend pointed out to me that this was sort of the first UF written. Looking at it from that perspective, and from the very important perspective that this was written in the 80s, things finally started clicking for me. The second half was quite good.

The interesting thing about this was that there wasn't one single actual plot twist that surprised me. Where the book was strongest was the novel setting and the way that music became such an integral part of the overall story. And is there anything more appropriate to use in a modern tale of humans and fae? Music and dancing?
113 reviews10 followers
June 26, 2007
In my mind, this novel is the forerunner to a variety of urban fantasy ventures that have been written since and gotten more attention (e.g. "American Gods"). It's the Led Zeppelin to Gaiman's AC/DC. Or something like that that makes more sense. As might be expected from a book that drips hip despite its pop culture references now being 20 years old, an allusion to Homestar Runner is one of my favorite ways to summarize it:

"Faeries are dragging us into their bloody war!"
"I don't want to take any chances. We should play in a band just to be safe."

And that's precisely what the heroine, a down-on-her-luck guitar player/singer, does.

The real magic in this book is not Faerie glamour but Bull's upper-echelon storytelling skills and otherworldly ability to make you like her characters. This book has a permanent place on my shelf and "reread periodically" status.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
July 30, 2017
This is, I believe, the book that kicked off the "using music against the Sidhe" subgenre that became so popular through the nineties. When I first read it, I wondered if the influence had been Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Garde--the idea of women writers catching, adding their own grace notes, and passing on ideas being exemplified so very well here.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,071 followers
March 23, 2011
Neil Gaiman's quote on the book jacket for The War for the Oaks reads: "Emma Bull is really good."
I'm with Mr. Gaiman. Good, but not great.
I'm not in one of my miserly moods, I swear. The heroine, Eddi, has her own kind of magic that comes from her stage presence when she's playing with her band. Shouldn't she have been more, well, charismatic? I liked a lot all of the parts when they are putting together their new band. Those were really good (again!) life stuff. But what about Eddi? After a whole book I feel like I should have felt like I knew her. I didn't. All I really know about her is that she has a vague sense of morality and puts together nice outfits (if I were girlier this would have been more interesting to me. All I really thought about it was that they didn't seem dated). Guys and audiences alike fall in love with her. Why? Make me fall in love too, Bull. I'm not being a Bully! (hahahah. Stop it, Mar.)
The only thing that dates this book in 1987 are the references to Prince. I would say it is dated on the relevance scale. Young me might have only cared that a bland and easy-to-impose-oneself-on heroine found love and her dream job, and that all was right with the world again. Now I've gotta think: is that all?
Eddi is chosen by the fae to bring to their war a to-the-death ability. She's chosen because the phouka (it isn't a spoiler to name him as the love interest. I called that from the moment he appeared) feels she's got her own magic from her art. The sidhe have lorded their lordliness over the lesser fae, and he's tired of it. After the war with the unseelie is over he wants to ensure they'll have a seelie to preserve. He feels that Eddi is the figurehead for the job, that the majority would rally behind her as something new. (It was annoying any time that anyone compared their leaders to the supposedly better mortal leaders. Right. No one has ever had any permanently good ideas.)
But this isn't about art, love and death, or valour and honour. Not really. It's a little too much about how awesome Eddi is. It is a shame that the story never really took off from under the spotlight on the stage.
The War for the Oaks is the "first urban fantasy" novel, depending on who you ask. Some give credit to Charles deLint (Bull's book is MUCH better than DeLints magic and fae book, the Little Country. Talk about your the world is one girl's stage stories!). At least Bull's book makes it nearly to the end before I started getting impatient. This "first" business is (to me) like the debate of who wrote the first story with robots (some say it is The Wizard of Oz) or the first mystery (some say it is Wilkie Collins's snooze-fest, The Moonstone). I'm reading it now. I don't care if David Bowie borrowed or if anyone borrowed from The Pixies, etc. etc. All I care about is if it is awesome. This is good but not awesome.
The Good Fairies of New York is awesome. (Not everyone agrees with this. I love it for the qualities that irritated others. It is punk rock! And rock 'n' roll. Fight to the death for love and freedom! I want messiness. If it matters it is.)
I was bored with the book by the end and didn't care to read the script sample from Bull and her husband for a movie version of The War for the Oaks. What it really needs is a great star to play Eddi. The most interesting thing about her cannot be how she wears her clothes! Also, reading about music would be boring for those without the frame of reference. I did know about a lot of those '80s bands (not that I'm bragging. I know about '80s bands and not much else). Unfortunately, a lot of them were '80s bands I am now wondering why the hell I liked them. The Psychedelic Furs? Why, Mariel, why? Same goes for Love and Rockets (I loved the nod to the comics. Eddi wanted to name their band that after the comics. I wonder if they'd have given credit to the Hernandez bros, as the real band Love and Rockets did not).
I imagine a movie version would be like Times Square or Bandits. Or maybe Nana. I could think of more. I'll stop now.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,280 reviews1,655 followers
September 15, 2016
4.5 stars

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.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
826 reviews207 followers
October 15, 2013
This book was shelved in the YA section at my library -- but I honestly can't figure out why it's there. This is clearly a book for adults, about adults doing mostly adult things (although I suppose you can argue that someone fronting a rock band might be viewed by many people as trying to live an extended teenage existence). Is there an assumption that urban fantasy is all for teenagers, or what? I think it would make more sense for teens to have to go fetch this out of the adult fantasy section, than vice versa.

That said, this was a very good read that could be enjoyed by anyone 14 and up, IMO. The story line is both suspenseful and humorous, and I loved every word of it. Eddi is an engaging POV character who reacts completely normally to being informed that she's been pulled into a crazy faery war without being asked (that is, she does not take to the idea easily). The phouka really grew on me as the book progressed, moving from annoying to adorable (plus he's supposed to be "even cuter than Prince", circa 1985 -- which was pretty darned cute), and the other characters were all well-developed and believable as well.

There was a bit of paranormal romance, and it was a nice change for me to read a book where the participants were grown-ups, who didn't feel they had to be each other's All-in-All or One-and-Only's or anything -- they were able to accept that they were going to have a good time together for a while, without having to make any kind of a big deal out of it. I found that really refreshing -- I'm somewhat distressed by the idea at the end of most teenage paranormal romances that one's whole life has to be all tied up and settled by the age of 18 or so.
Profile Image for Trisha.
63 reviews17 followers
September 10, 2008
In my opinion, you really can't call yourself an Urban fantasy fan if you haven't read this book. This is one of, if not THE book that started it all.

There are fairies (but don't call them that if you know what's good for you) of every shape and size, lust, love, rock n' roll and a war between Seelie and Unseelie courts- what more could you want?

How about characters you care for almost instantly, magic that somehow makes sense even when it doesn't, and don't forget- the magic of music.

This is no cut and dry good vs. evil tale either, like all great urban fantasies it's a whole palette of shades of grey, although you do know who's side you come down on- it's not entirely ambivalent, like some of Caitlin R, Kiernan's work- but you definitely see the beauty in the darkness.

And woven through it all is an honest to goodness amazing love story.
So very highly recommended.
Profile Image for JG (Introverted Reader).
1,118 reviews484 followers
September 21, 2009
Eddi McCandry is a rocker with a big heart. She attracts the attention of the Seelie Court and her life is turned upside down.

I absolutely loved this. If you know me, and maybe if you don't, you know that Charles de Lint is my favorite author. This is something very much in the same vein as de Lint's best work. I don't mean that it's a knockoff, it's just something that I enjoyed for a lot of the same reasons that I enjoy de Lint.

These characters were awesome. They're people (or not) that I would love to know in real life. Eddi is a talented, creative musician with a true gift. She's not perfect, but she's big enough to apologize when it's necessary. She can take charge when that's necessary too. She gives her all for her friends and refuses to give up even when everyone else is telling her that what she wants to do is impossible. Her friend Carla is much the same way, except possibly even more loyal and more likely to give her friends a figurative kick in the pants when they need it. Willy, oh Willy. What a heart breaker. And that's all I'll say about him. But the star of the show is the Phouka. Can you say book crush? He's funny, sarcastic, dashing, romantic, a rebel, strong, tough, just enough of a bad boy, and he's learning more about what it means to be human. I adored him. I wasn't too sure about him at first, but he grows throughout the book, and we get to know him better, and I was a fan for life by about the halfway point. Love him.

Even aside from the characters, the story was a page-turner. I was supposed to be training a new employee as I read this, and he just would not stop talking. (Okay, I was not slacking. The guy was in his final week of training and he didn't need it. We had absolutely nothing to do. I had listened to his same stories umpteen times already. I wanted to get on with this story.) I managed to be polite and listen to him, but the whole time I was sitting there wondering what was going to happen next, hoping that the trainee would need a bathroom break soon and I could read a little more about what was going on with Eddi, the Phouka, and the Seelie Court. That's probably terrible to admit, but there you go. Read it when you won't be interrupted. :-)

So, this is a new favorite. If you like fantasy and great characters, pick this up. You'll be sorry if you don't.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
December 26, 2017
Such a fun read. As someone in the center of the Venn diagram of "loves folk lore," "loves music," and "loves books," this was basically made for me. If you like badass urban fantasy with great tie ins to Celtic lore and have fond memories of going to shows, you really need to check this out.


Things to love:

-The phouka. Yeah, I know Eddi is the main character, and she's pretty great. But she's not the cheeky, chivalrous, mercurial phouka. I don't often love shifters. I'm making an enormous exception for him. Please to give him his own book. kthx.

-The band and music. It makes me want to book a gig even though I don't have a band. It makes me want to jam and/or go to a concert. I absolutely adored explaining the "it" factor that the best leads and epic bands have live as faerie magic. That je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like you're all conducting electricity together makes total sense as a type of illusion. Also, Eddi's band mates were a delight.

-The lore. Clearly, Emma and I grew up with the same fairy tales. So much felt so familiar but also completely new, which is the feeling I'm always seeking in urban fantasy and so rarely find.

-The writing. Emma's book sings. The sentences all lead perfectly into the next one. You need every word. So many lines I would have shared if I'd not been reading the book in full texture and/or could have been convinced to set it down for a minute. Alas, you'll just have to read it yourself.

Things I wish I'd had more of:

-The plot. It was a little thin, I think. Super cool, but I wanted more meat so that I felt the story like I did the bits about the music.

-The ending. It was a bit rushed, I think. Again, I wanted a bit more suspense and closure. It worked well, but it was juuuuust "off" enough that I felt its absence. Especially as it's a stand alone, I wanted a bit more of a wind down.

What can I say? Highly recommend this book. Even though it wasn't perfect, it's probably one of my favorite things I've read this year! And, like the rest of the world, apparently, I'd watch the hell out of this movie.
Profile Image for Snarktastic Sonja.
525 reviews56 followers
May 4, 2021
Sometimes, in order to enjoy a classic, you have to realize that it was not written today. To read this book and criticize it for jumping on the "fae" "shifter" bandwagon is not recognizing that it started the bandwagon - it did not join the train in progress.

I have heard about this book for years. It was written before I became immersed in Urban Fantasy. I'm not completely sure how I missed it at the time it was written as it was also before my refusal to read Urban Fantasy. (yes, yes, we all go through stages . . . ) Hmm. May well be that I was still reading mysteries and by the time I got into fantasy, it was old. At any rate, I dunno. What I do know is that I have not read it since becoming a fan of UF because it was not in digital form. It is now. But, I still checked the paperback out of the library. So, go figure.

At any rate - we jump right into the story as Eddi is playing a venue with her band and breaking up with its leader . . . which leads through a mad dash through Minneapolis. Aaaand, the fun begins.

There is mystery and intrigue and romance and music and twists and turns. I read it slowly to savor the fun and the action and the characters, who are beautifully drawn and developed. The shifter here has not taken on the "alpha" aspect that has developed in recent years. He is just another part of the fae. The fae queens, however, have all the superciliousness that we have come to know and love/hate.

My one disappointment in this book is all the musical references and lyrics presented. I didn't quite understand all the performance descriptions and I could not sing the lyrics to any song but one and this quite distracted me. I would definitely continue on in their adventures if such were possible. Which reminds me, this book has the benefit of being a stand alone - a rare occurrence, indeed, these days. 4 very solid stars.
Profile Image for Jamie Collins.
1,434 reviews274 followers
November 30, 2010
Can Eddi and her new band save Minneapolis from the Unseelie Court?

The Fey are not my favorite fantasy creatures, and this book got off to a weak start, but I was soon enjoying myself. This is described as "one of the pioneering works of urban fantasy". It was written as contemporary fiction in the 80's (our heroes are fond of vests, denim jackets and high-top sneakers) and features an out-of-work singer/guitarist who gets dragged into the middle of a Fairy war. She's guarded by a fabulous phouka, seduced by a Fairy lord, and threatened by a variety of hostile, inhuman creatures. In the end she champions the Seelie Court with her magical music. It's all rather charming.
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