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Silver Bough
Lisa Tuttle
Bantam Spectra, 336 pages

Lisa Tuttle
Lisa Tuttle grew up in Texas, where, as a young writer, she fell in with the notorious Turkey City gang. She sold her first short stories in the early 1970s, and received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974. After five years as a newspaper journalist in Austin, she opted out of a life of financial security to write fiction full-time. In 1981 she moved to London. Her first novel, Windhaven, was written in collaboration with George R.R. Martin. This was followed by Familiar Spirit (1983), Gabriel (1987), Lost Futures (1992) and The Pillow Friend (1996), as well as by three short story collections. Lisa Tuttle is also the author of several non-fiction works, most notably The Encyclopedia of Feminism (1986), and a number of books for children, including Panther in Argyll (1996) and Mad House (1998). She now lives in a remote part of western Scotland with her family.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Silver Bough
SF Site Review: The Pillow Friend
SF Site Review: The Mysteries
SF Site Review: Ghosts and Other Lovers
Lisa Tuttle Tribute Site
Bio/Bibliography: 1, 2, 3 Book reviews:



Upcoming limited edition of Ghosts and Other Lovers from Sarob Press
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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Silver Bough Lisa Tuttle's novel The Silver Bough is a deeply frustrating book. Sure, it's well-written with evocative language and rich worldbuilding, but that's something of a given when considering a writer as gifted as Tuttle. The trouble is, as I was reading it and even now, long after I've finished the last chapter, I have no idea who it was written for.

There is a tightrope to be walked here -- The Silver Bough is not a bad book. It takes many of the elements found in romance writing and puts them to good use without becoming constrained by the conventions of that genre. It is entertaining, but is paradoxically unfulfilling as well. The Hobson's Choice presents itself: Damn it with faint praise, or praise it with faint damnation. It would be easier if the target audience was, well, obvious. This is a fantasy novel, one would assume.

There are magical apples and mermaids and all manner of odd, supernatural beings to be had. But for all of the novel's elegant prose and complex characters, it truly reads like the efforts of a talented mainstream novelist who couldn't quite bring themself to committing to the whole "whoo whoo" aspect of the story. To put it in genre terms, this is a contemporary fantasy for readers who think Charles de Lint's work is too heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard. Chew on that for a minute.

Everything is in place for this to turn into a grand fable narrative.

Appleton is a charming seaside town in rural Scotland, slowly dying a painful death as so many isolated, rural towns often do. Appleton, however, can point to the exact cause of its malaise -- 50 years before, the Apple Queen abdicated her title and role in the annual Apple Festival, fleeing to America and leaving her would-be suitor high and dry, befouling an ancient ritual that supposedly kept Appleton prosperous. Now, that wayward Apple Queen's granddaughter, Ashley Kaldis has returned to Appleton hoping to learn about her family history at the same time a mysterious stranger arrives in town, a stranger with more than a passing resemblance to that jilted suitor from all those decades past. Also in the mix are Nell Westray, an American ex-pat who mourns the death of her husband even as she tries to reestablish the apple groves that once gave the town its name, and Kathleen Mullaroy, a divorced librarian who also happens to have American roots.

When an unexpected earthquake cuts the tiny community off from the mainland, odd things start to happen. For anyone who has read any type of contemporary fantasy in the past 30 years, the underlying cause of the oddities are pretty obvious: Faerie is reasserting itself, supplanting technology and the rational world. Telephones don't work. Autos sputter to a stop. Strange fog appears offshore and gradually creeps closer.

Kelpies appear in the form of a horse, hoping to lure unwary travelers to their doom. Which is all good and proper, except that the reader is halfway into the novel before these oddities begin to occur, and even then Tuttle is coy about it. A particularly wonderful scene involving many, many generations of Appleton's oldest residents is as creepily hilarious as it is inspired... but it happens in isolation, playing no role in the overall plot beyond illustrating the fact that Reality Is Changing. And that, I suppose, is my biggest frustration -- there are too many of these wonderful scenes that exist unto themselves with no ultimate payoff. Mario, a Greek teen with a remarkably detailed backstory, has an unfortunate encounter with a mermaid that ultimately goes nowhere -- indeed, Mario, for all his character development, is mostly irrelevant to any of the important events unfolding around him, serving only as a romantic consolation prize when all is said and done. There's a lot of that in this book -- elaborate scene-setting and worldbuilding, character development and personalities that make for pretty window dressing, but little else.

The entire first half of the book is an unhurried meander through Appleton and the principal players' histories, just as the second half is an unhurried meander through increasingly strange events to the conclusion. A finale, I might add, which is quite well-conceived and satisfying, but one that leaves the reader with the impression that for all the comings and goings there was really only one significant storyline all along, and that everything else was pretty much grafted on to give it added complexity and texture.

It's been popular for years to bemoan the categorization plague that afflicts publishing, that fans of one genre look only within that genre for their reading material. Authors sometimes bemoan the fact that retailers don't simply have a single fiction category for "Books" and let everything rub shoulders outside of pigeonholes. For good or ill, that's not the reality of modern bookstores, and fantasy and science fiction readers bring certain expectations to the table. The Silver Bough soft-pedals all the elements inherent in those expectations, and the end result is a book that will seem fresh and new only to someone who's never read a lick of fantasy before.

Fantasy for people who don't read fantasy. Looks like I figured out the target demographic after all.

Copyright © 2006 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. A collection of his interviews, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, is now available from the University of Nebraska Press. His web log can be found at jlbgibberish.blogspot.com


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