Posted on March 27, 2005 by Flames
The War of the Flowers
A Novel Written by Tad Williams
A journal, a lost love, and grief set the stage for this dark fantasy novel written by Tad Williams. The War of the Flowers hosts characters that hide the in the shadows and never ask for redemption. This is a novel that looks for a hero. The would-be “hero” of the tale, Theo Vilmos, is a musician who can’t seem to get his act together. Within the first 50 to 100 pages you will find yourself in the midst of a mystery shrouded in grief. So much grief, in fact, that you wonder why Theo turns away from music in his time of deepest sorrow. Instead Theo turns to a battered journal, intrigued by its words. The journal, written by his great-uncle Eamonn Dowd, taunts Theo with the promise of a city unlike any other. “It has many names this fabled metropolis—Avalone, Cibola, Tir naOg, to mention a few, and doubtless dozens more I never heard, because I spoke only the common language of the place (of which I shall say more later) although there are many other tongues spoken there.” (page 108) At first, Theo struggles to wrap his mind around the difference between fantasy and reality, for the City Eamonn speaks of exists in the world of the Faerie.
Theo, torn from the mortal world, is first introduced to the world of the Faerie by a sprite named Applecore. While she is blunt, impatient, and hot-tempered, she manages to introduce Theo to the fae world as any other native to another country might. In Williams’ novel, the fae world exists symbiotic to our own, mortal realm. Williams pursues the socialism of the fae world with a vengeance, you can feel the fae’s disdain among each other and for humanity. Political parties abound, which show a glimpse of the chaos that exists in the fae world. No secret to all, this is a world in which the King and Queen of the Faerie have died. What follows in the aftermath of a great monarchy are seven “Royal” fae houses, each with their own titles and powers of government interwoven in Law. As the houses vie for power, you are reminded briefly of the political conflict in Dune. Oddly enough, the more “royal” a fae is, the more human-like in appearance they become. But is this world so like our own? Comments interjected here and there indicate that the fae world appears as it is in the eyes of those who view it. Alien and foreign, the fae world cannibalizes itself as it attempts to become like the mortal world the fae resent so much.
At every turn, Theo is unwillingly immersed in a power struggle. The scheme, plotted well before his birth, takes Theo to some dark places of fear and abandonment. Within his character, you wonder if he is strong enough to handle the alien feel of the fae world, the grief within him, and his growing self-awareness as he journeys. This novel is less about heroism and more about a lost bard who travels to find his music once again. Once Theo does find his voice, you understand that only the Theo who survived fire-breathing dragons, murder, Hollowmen, an Irrha and Nidrus Hellebore could have mustered enough courage to sing again.
The War of the Flowers is written in such a way that you forget the fae archetypes that run amuck in this novel. Williams’ quality of writing gives a visual feel to the book that lets you revel in the myriad of faerie types he describes. Sprites, pixies, hobgoblins, tommy-knockers, ferishers, selkies, goblins, trolls, poleviks and nixies are just a small part of this tale. Each type of faerie has been distinguished from its archetype in such a way you feel that Williams collected several as if they were fragile butterflies. Not so breakable are the trolls. While ugly and useful for their strength, their endearing quality is that they are named after their favorite childhood “toy.”
While I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up “The War of the Flowers,” I knew that Williams’ writing would be captivating, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed his fae world. Originally, I had picked up the book to find inspiring storylines for running games like Dark Ages: Fae, Deleria, or Changeling: the Dreaming. In terms of fae fantasy, this novel would do well to inspire storytellers for games like Changeling: the Dreaming. While the “Seelie” and the “Unseelie” do not have a place in the War of the Flowers, there are similarities to the Unseelie and the Hellebore. For other types of dark fantasy games, The War of the Flowers does an excellent job giving the reader a glimpse of the otherworldliness of the faerie realm.
If you are looking for a longer, dark fantasy read, at close to 830 pages The War of the Flowers, written by Tad Williams entertains and inspires. With a glossary included at the book’s end, Williams’ assures you that you will find yourself immersed in the dark world of the Faerie.
Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli