The War of the Flowers (2003)
Author: Tad Williams
Singer Theo Vilmos spent most of his teens and twenties playing in rock bands. Now a washed up musician in his thirties, Theo realizes that he hasn’t made much of his life. Theo hits rock bottom when his girlfriend miscarries their baby, dumps Theo, and then his mother dies of pancreatic cancer. While going through his mother’s belongings, Theo stumbles upon a key to a safety deposit box. All that Theo finds in the box is a book about a fairy world written by a great-uncle that he never met named Eamonn Dowd. Theo settles into a cabin in the woods to read the book, when an undead spirit called an irrha tries to kill Theo. At the last minute, Theo is saved by a sprite named Applecore, who opens a door to the Faerie world. Once in the Faerie world, Theo realizes that it is a much darker world than he had imagined, more like our own world rather than the innocent world of fairy tales. The world of Faerie is ruled by seven faerie families all named after flowers. These families are divided on the subject of what to do with the human world, since the humans are taking up too many resources. Theo learns much of what is going on as he travels around Faerie world to escape the undead creature that tried to kill him, as well as the guards sent by the Hellebore fairy family since the Hellebore's want all of human-kind to perish. The Hellebore’s start a war when they attack the Daffodil House (supporters of humans), and the Faerie world is plunged into uncertainty. Theo is able to survive through the help of his friends Applecore and the servant fairy Cumber Sedge as well as his love Poppy Thornapple. SPOILER: Theo meets up with the goblin Mud Bug Button, who arranges a revolution with the lower-class fairies against the upper class fairies. Applecore is kidnapped by Lord Hellebore. Theo has to visit the unpleasant Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles to ask for his help, and it turns out that the Remover is Theo’s great-uncle Dowd, who sent the irrha to capture Theo for the Hellebore’s. When Theo was a baby, Dowd exchanged Theo for a human baby, and Theo’s real name is Septimus Violet, the last of the Violet family. The human baby has been made into a powerful Terrible Child who will unleash horror onto the world. Although there are many obstacles, Theo defeats Hellebore and the irrha destroys the Terrible Child. The war ends, Dowd escapes when his spirit takes over a new body, Theo finally finds happiness and decides to remain in Faerie world with his new friends, and the Faerie world is free of the Flower families.
Geographical Setting: California, Faerie World
Time Period: Present day (2003)
The War of the Flowers is a long but engrossing novel, so don't be intimidated! The pacing changes throughout the story with a slow beginning and a swift ending. However, a slow beginning is needed for Williams to set up his dark and complicated Faerie world with unfamiliar creatures and a complex faerie government to comprehend. The quirky characters are quite realistic although not well developed. Characters such as the feisty but charming Applecore and the fairthful but unconfident fairy servant Cumber Sedge are recognizable even though they are not human. By the middle of the book, readers will find that Williams developed a plot that explores the issues of social class inequalities and poor government leadership. Since Williams uses a darker tone to describe the magical Faerie world punctuated by a few humorous characters, he is able to pull off such an issue oriented and metaphorical book without suffering from a tedious story line.
Read-alikes: For those that enjoyed Tad Williams’ style of writing, his fantasy series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn could appeal to some readers and is one of his most popular trilogies. Readers should start with the first volume The Dragonbone Chair, in which a young kitchen boy and magician’s apprentice named Simon sees his world fall apart due to civil war caused by the dark powers of sorcerers. If you enjoyed a rock ‘n roll singing protagonist in an urban setting that has an encounter with warring fairies, War for the Oakes by Emma Bull could be a suggestion for those that enjoyed War of the Flowers. In War for the Oakes, singer Eddi McCandry recently left her band and discovers the warring world of Faerie. If you enjoyed the exploration of social class woes with an oppressive nobility, then Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing (Soldier Son Trilogy, Book 1) might appeal to you. Nevare Burvelle is a young nobleman that is made fun of at his new school for being part of the “new nobility,” but Nevare gets revenge when the magic of the shaman’s from his home territory cause Nevare to spread a mysterious plague. Another tale featuring a young man who is unknowingly of noble birth in a foreign world is Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber, the first of the Chronicles of Amber series. In this book, Corwin wakes up in an insane asylum on Earth and can’t remember how he got there, so he retraces his steps and finds out that he is the son of the King of Amber. Readers who are looking for feisty and humorous characters such as Applecore might enjoy Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Godmother. In The Godmother, a social worker in Seattle named Rose Simpson wishes for a fairy godmother, and so Felicity Fortune shows up and incidents similar to those in fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White begin to happen in Seattle. A slightly different read-alike titled A Midnight Clear by William Wharton would be appropriate for those that enjoyed the war stories in The War of the Flowers, but wanted to read about soldiers in an actual war. In A Midnight Clear, U.S. soldiers fighting the Germans in the Ardennes Forest on Christmas Eve, 1944 experience social isolation behind enemy lines and want to return home, which are similar to many of the feelings that Theo had.
Red Flags: Language, a few sexual references