One of the first prominent works of the urban fantasy genre is Emma Bull’s novel War for the Oaks, a story that blends mythological creatures into an urban setting, creating a fantasy-style storyline with a strong modern ethos.
Set in Minneapolis, the story focuses on Eddi McCandry, a female guitarist and rock singer who has had no luck with bands or boyfriends. All that changes when she finds herself drafted into an invisible and ancient war between two clans of fairies, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Now attuned to the world of glamour, Eddi has to tread carefully as intrigues swell and lines are drawn between friends. It becomes a question of knowing who to trust and whether or not her passion for rock n’ roll can defeat the power of the Queen of Air and Darkness.
The characters in this story are all fairly vivid and enjoyable. Eddi is world-weary but ambitious for success and romance, making her a good heroine. She is a good contrast to her fairy guardian, a mischievous but loyal shapeshifter simply known as “the phouka.” And the two of them stand out from the Sidhe or other fairies, who live in a world of binding vows and centuries-old traditions.
It’s also safe to say that Minneapolis is itself a character in this novel, which is part of what makes it a good urban fantasy. Emma Bull makes good use of the city’s avenues, parks, and nightlife centers to give the story depth and a strong atmosphere. She also effectively draws on other portions of her own life, like being in a folk music group called the Flash Girls, as inspiration for Eddi’s life. In some stories, giving a main character so many common ties to the author’s life would be an amateur move, but here it’s handled nicely and makes Eddi and her world seem more real.
This story has a lot of heart, inspired by a lot of enthusiasm and extensive research into Celtic and Welsh mythology. I’d recommend this as both a good story on its own merits and as an excellent fantasy novel.
On a final note, Emma Bull and her husband have long ago written up a screenplay adaptation of War for the Oaks, though it has yet to be picked up for film production. There is, however, an eleven-minute short film based on their screenplay, along with excerpts included in an appendix to the 2001 edition of the novel. Both the film and the screenplay excerpts are worth checking out in my honest opinion.
Bibliography: Bull, Emma. War for the Oaks. New York: Ace Books, 1987.