What a peculiar book this is.
I’ve said before that I kind of feel like it’s alternate genre history: if fantasy had been established as a publishing category on the basis of Lud-in-the-Mist instead of The Lord of the Rings, then books like this would be our giant blockbusters. Which is why it’s so peculiar that it was a giant blockbuster; sure, I can see the appeal of Harry Potter for a broader audience, but how on earth did an eight-hundred-page nineteenth-century fantasy novel, complete with footnotes, get so much mainstream love? Heck, how did it get published? You hear all these stories about editors reading a manuscript and saying, “I love it, but I can’t buy it because our sales people have no idea how to market it” — yet somehow they decided they could market this one. And they were right, but I’m still boggled that it happened in the first place.
It’s such a sprawling narrative that I know I lost track of many details the first time I read it; things were clearer a second time around. I was particularly struck by the resemblance to The King of Elfland’s Daughter — “We want magic!” <they get some> “Aaagh no take it back takeitback!” — the powerful sense of Elfland/Faerie being untamed, untameable, and not everybody’s prepared to deal with it but that’s what’s awesome about it. I think it’s no accident that everything I find myself comparing it to was written in either the 19th century or the 1920s. And it’s possible that’s why I find myself still a bit disappointed by the ending; the lead-up seems to be climbing this epic mountain, but it diverts just shy of the summit, as if the author can’t quite bring herself to do something so vulgar. But I really wanted to see the view from that summit, because it isn’t the same mountain all the so-called epic fantasies are climbing, and I think it could have blown the top of my head off. Instead it stopped about one step short, and started climbing back down.
For all that, though — and various other flaws — it still gives me many things to love. The footnoted commentary on different books and articles is a particularly excellent touch, at least if you’re the sort of geek I am, and of course I adore the humour created by an elegantly-phrased understatement. I just wish it would have climbed that one last step.