I remember when I first read Emma Bull’s ‘War for the Oaks.’ It was like no other fantasy I’d ever read before, and I was just… I was crazy about it. And I honestly didn’t think anything could top it, even anything else Emma Bull had written. But I like to… uh, absorb? consume? …as much of a certain thing as I can, when I find something I like, and that includes genres, but also authors. So I think the first thing I did after I read ‘War for the Oaks’ was go out and get ‘Finder.’
I can’t remember expecting too much from it, although, since I knew I liked Emma Bull, I think I figured it was probably going to be good. But it’s one of those books that plays in someone else’s literary world. And those can be so hit and miss. And I hadn’t really heard much about the book, compared to the extremely high and profuse praise ‘War for the Oaks’ always gets.
I love ‘War for the Oaks.’ I really do. It’s one of my favorite books ever. But ‘Finder’ topped it. ‘Finder’ bests… so many books.
‘Finder’ takes place in Bordertown or Borderland, which is a literary world created, I think, by Terri Windling. I’d never read any other Bordertown books, and there are a few, so I didn’t really know anything about it. What it is, basically, is a town, or maybe, more accurately, a city where the human world and the fey world collide, and the elves and humans kind of get together and are friendly, but at the same time, still retain their own sides and loyalties. And it’s gritty and dark and interesting and there’s just a lot of space to create your own thing and Emma Bull does this so, so well.
The book is about Orient, a young man who has a talent for finding things. Someone tells him something’s missing or whatever, and he feels a tug, and he can track it to the thing. And he ends up getting tangled up with finding out about this new drug that people in Bordertown are taking, which turns humans into elves. The problem is, the drug is also killing everyone who takes it, and it’s creating a sickness that’s spreading.
Synopses! I rock at them! Not!
Anyway, ‘Finder’ is just… It’s not really what you expect. You expect modern elves, mixing with humans, and you get that. They all ride around on motorcycles and act super cool, which is super cool. But one of the things I like best about Emma Bull is how she writes her fey. She creates this beautiful balance where they’re obviously not human, very different than humans, but at the same time, they have so much humanity. They’re never cutout images of what you expect elves to be. Some are fine and lovely and ethereal, but just as many are rough and strong and bold. They follow fey rules, but they also break them.
And I also love how this book is so unexpected in the relationships it presents. I think this was one of the first times I read a book that had a… a kind of purely full‐of‐need, nearly non‐romantic, immediate, honest, err, sexual relationship, for lack of a more elegant way to phrase that. It’s like the friendships within the book are far more important than the growing romantic relationship (which isn’t really romantic) between Orient and the detective, Sunny, who he’s working with. Now, generally, I prefer romance in my books. It’s fun. It’s engaging. But these friendships, between Sunny and Orient and Orient and his best friend Tick‐Tick, and Sunny and her partner, are just so strong and lovely and excellent. And the maturity presented by this idea, and how much I really liked it, took me by surprise. It’s almost as if, because the other relationships take such a priority, and because the relationship between Sunny and Orient is new and imperfect, it’s so much better and more believable than if they had fallen into some kind of insta‐love.
In this case. In this book. Insta‐love can work, if it’s written well, but Emma Bull kind of says it’s not necessary here, and she does a fantastic job of creating, instead, relationships that are so wonderful and true, even if they’re not exactly what every reader’s going to want. It’s, instead, what the characters and book need in order to be real and honest.
I’ve always liked the way Emma Bull writes her characters anyway. They’re so real and rich and three‐dimensional. She does an excellent job of feeding the reader just enough back story that you know these people, but only gradually, as you would if you’d just met them and were getting to know them, as the book progresses.
And the plot’s pretty freaking fantastic, too. There’s a really strong, engaging storyline that makes sense but is never predictable. It’s tense and sometimes exciting but just as often, the story slips into the more emotional side of things and everything is so balanced. Overall, the pacing is so smooth.
I guess the thing I love most about this book is that it’s just so much more than you expect. On the surface, it’s a great mystery and a fun, pretty fast plot that clips along. But every time it dips into emotions or relationships, or even what it means to be human or fey, what it means to live how you want, to escape your past, when Orient helps those who need him because he’s a good person even though he’s young and often confused… It just really grabs me, in a deep way.
I just really, really like the book.
And, as an aside that’s most likely decidedly unimportant, I am very partial to the older blue cover with the stars. -SEL