Something a little different now, I've just finished reading Tad Williams "The War of the Flowers" and since I've such mixed feelings about the book, I figured I'd unload some of my views here!
The War of the Flowers
Those who know me know I'm a huge fan of the fantasy genre and this is without a doubt where WotF fits in. A story about the abduction and adventures of a mediocre musician from the human world to the land of Faeries it draws from popular fantasy and mythological folk law globally to weave a weave a vast world of incredible mystery.
In fact, this is the greatest strength of The War of the Flowers. The Faerie world in which it is set is clearly the primary love of the author. It's a fascinating world too, with its own set of scientific laws tied to 'contracts' and a vast array of creatures and cultures that seem never-ending. The parks are colonized by the spirits of the trees that were cleared to create them and the decay of magic has lead to the dwarfing of wild dragons. All of these minor points add to the depth of the world in which Williams set's his tale. But there's a problem...
There's such a constant battle between the narrative of the storyline and that of the landscape and surroundings that it's almost like the book should be two books. One should be a guided tour of Williams Faerie, complete with illustrated pictures of its inhabitants and tidbits on customers, culture, and science. The second book should be named The War of the Flowers and should follow the protagonist (Theo) through his struggles in Faerie.
So the creation of Faerie aside, what's the book like? I feel what is an amazing concept was let down by a few errors in execution. The story is painfully long... 33% of the book elapses before we got to the main storyline, and that's 33% of a large book. I didn't need a dozen chapters on the mundane life of Theo on Earth just to understand how mundane his life is on Earth. While these early chapters did set up quite a few later plot points (his partner's miscarriage, his true identity and his uncle's betrayal to name three) it simply wasn't necessary. The same could have been achieved through a simple flashback or a far more concise chapter or two on the back story. Instead, we get a minute-by-minute walkthrough of what feels like the six months leading up to our story.
But we get through this and we start getting into it... it's at this point that the book is starting to get harder to put down, and easier to pick up. The supporting characters are more interesting and less self-pitying than Theo, and we're in Faerie now so we have a cool new world to explore... and explore a lot. So we find our second issue. Williams has a habit of punctuating exciting 'blood-thumping' moments with large descriptive paragraphs about mundane observations, epiphanies or metaphors. I'd be a rich man if I had a dollar every time Theo had a moment of self-awareness and recognized what a prick he was... I'd have $0 if I had a dollar for every time he made a sincere effort to change this.
This leads to our final issue... with such an eclectic supporting cast Williams makes it clear he knows how to create and convey a good personality. Characters with depth and admirable characteristics who we care about. So why make our main character so utterly useless. Theo is the epitome of boring... his backstory is mundane, he makes little-to-no progress over the course of the book and he's entirely useless at moments that matter. There's something to be said for avoiding creating an overpowered protagonist who's always carelessly blasting his way through the most powerful foes... this being said Williams has gone the exact opposite way. Theo is nothing more than a tour guide through his own story, swept up because of chance, carried along by a cast of more powerful characters and at no point does he change the course of his own fate. In the whole book only one action that Theo makes actually makes a difference, and while it's a relief we didn't finish the book with zero, it's hardly enough to make for a riveting main character.
Overall the strength of Faerie is almost, but not quite, enough to save the whole book. The final nail in the coffin is the thirty page 'tie up every loose end' ending which takes place after the last important part of the story. It was the final insult added to injury and left me more frustrated than impressed...
One of the middle Wheel of Time books
Thanks for reading team!