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The War of the Flowers
Tad Williams
DAW, 675 pages

The War of the Flowers
Tad Williams
Tad Williams is the bestselling author of Tailchaser's Song and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. He is co-founder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well as novels.

Tad Williams Website
Tad Williams Other Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sea of Silver Light
SF Site Interview: Tad Williams
SF Site Review: Otherland, Vol. 3: Mountain of Black Glass
SF Site Review:Otherland Vol. 2: River of Blue Fire
SF Site Review:Otherland Vol. 1: City of Golden Shadow
Tad Williams' Shadowmarch
Tad Williams Fan Page
Interview with Tad Williams

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

I've been resisting this Tad Williams fellow for a long time, despite all the goods things I've heard about him. The problem is an issue of heft. It's bad enough that just one of his books could give you a hernia lugging them to the checkout counter, but it's often only one of a series of equally prodigious output! Who's got the time, let alone the attention span, to keep all the characters and situations straight over thousands of pages?

Which is why I welcomed the chance to read The War of the Flowers, because it clocks in at only (!) 675 pages and is a self-contained story (though the possibility for future sequels is there). In a way I'm sorry I did, because now I'm a fan, so now I have to figure out some way to take the next year off to get through his back catalogue.

Theo Vilmos is a thirty-something musician who isn't on his way to stardom. You know the type. Talented, but not overly ambitious, content to let life pass by along as he's got a gig, even if it is with a bunch of pretentious know-nothing kids, not bitter exactly, but somewhat disappointed with how things have turned out. But his girlfriend is pregnant, and he guesses he should start to makes some changes, though he doesn't have a clue what they might be. Significant changes await, however, triggered when his girlfriend miscarries. This tragedy is compounded by Theo's absence; he was rehearsing late and never bothered to call to check in on her until he finally gets home to find her sprawled unconscious on the bed. That's when the girlfriend decides Theo may not be the right candidate for a life partner.

Getting kicked out of his girlfriend's house is bad enough, but Theo also has to deal with the impending demise of his mother. After her death, Theo takes his small inheritance to try out the Thoreau-lifestyle at a secluded cabin and possibly edit into a commercially marketable book an apparent fantasy story written by his long lost uncle Eamonn Dowd. Trouble is, it's not the idyllic path towards self-realization he thought it might be. There's these bad dreams he's been having. Then, one night, something tries to break into his cabin and kill him...

[Short interjection: So far, this sound almost like a Stephen King horror story, without all the brand names. However, we're about to get to the part that explains why the novel is subtitled "A Fantasy"]

...but a Tinkerbell-sized faerie comes to his aid. The only way to save Theo is to bring him over into Faerie Land. A place already familiar to him, because it is exactly like the story Theo thought his uncle was making up.

To a certain extent, we're in familiar territory here. A character trying to find himself crosses over into a magical land in which he will be tested in a quest, find a true love, discover his true origins, and ultimately triumph over evil. If that's all it were, I'd doubt I'd be able to yawn my way even halfway through a tome this size. But this is the only fantasy I've read in which the faerie creatures regularly must excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. And where they have cell phones.

While The War of the Flowers is suffused with these sort of humorous touches, including a conclusion entitled "Fairytale Ending," it has its serious side, as well. The centerpiece is an horrific scene that has uncanny similarities to the World Trade Tower attack. Williams notes that this part of the novel was written long before 9/11 and that he has airbrushed out certain elements that were even closer to the actual event. He asks the reader to realize he is not attempting to capitalize on the event and introduce some "cheap thrills." Indeed, this is hardly the case. Whatever similarities the fictional event described may have with the 9/11 tragedy, what Williams depicts is the universal penchant for destructiveness without regard for innocent life that is all-too characteristic of our species. In this case, the species may be imaginary, but, make no mistake, the lessons drawn are human ones.

Indeed, Williams' version of Faerie is typical of the "crossover" tale -- the imaginary world reflects our own; in this case, a capitalist society that owes its existence in large part to the successful exploitation of lower classes to provide cheap labor and resources. Here, Williams follows the Tolkien tradition that elevates the pastoral over the industrialized. But Williams has less Romantic notions (which Theo's inability to "return to nature" early in the book is perhaps meant to satirize). He recognizes it is not the technology or the society that are inherently bad, it is their abuse by the powerful. Theo's eventual transformation from a self-centered underachiever to a man capable of love and higher purpose is not only the centerpiece of the fantasy quest, but, also a goal of real life. I suppose that because for the most part we fail to achieve such a goal both individually and as a society that we must classify such a tale as fantasy.

Copyright © 2003 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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