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The War of the Flowers    by Tad Williams order for
War of the Flowers
by Tad Williams
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There is a strong vein of horror running through Tad Williams' War of the Flowers. It opens on a hellebore and a cold figure manipulating events, like a spider at the center of a palatial web. He speaks to the 'Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles' about a coming war and a child who must not live.

An abrupt juxtaposition sends us to San Francisco in the human world, where misfit musician Theo Vilmos learns of his girlfriend's sudden miscarriage and soon afterwards loses his mother to cancer. Dealing with her effects, he finds a book written by his great uncle Eamonn Dowd that speaks of a strange journey to a world of Faerie. And that world soon comes after him, when the plotting of misnamed Flowers (cruel Faerie aristos) sends a Frankenstein monster lurching into Theo's world to bring him back to theirs. Why is mortal Theo important to them and who or what is their 'Terrible Child'?

Theo is saved by a small tough-talking sprite named Applecore, who opens a window to 'a colorless void that crashed like ocean waves and sparkled like stars.' But don't start to imagine a typical 'Storybook Land'. This Faerie, searching for a new source of power after the loss of its King and Queen in the Second Gigantine War, has developed a new technology, powered by sacrifice. Applecore, 'a miniature John LeCarr9 out of a box of Cracker Jacks', guides Theo through a morass of plots and counterplots, revolution and betrayal. He finds Eamonn's book rather 'like someone gave me a manual on lion-taming to read, but didn't warn me I was about to be smothered with gravy and parachuted into the African veldt.'

On a train ride with both the monster and local constables in pursuit, Theo is helped on a whim by teenage (only a hundred) Flower Poppy Thornapple, 'a glamorous Goth princess'. Soon he finds himself in the middle of a horrendous Faerie War, that begins with a 9/11 like attack on a Flower tower home (an Author's Note at the beginning explains that this was outlined in January 2000). There are wild goblins out of a surreal Wild West, flaming dragons used in contravention of prior treaties, kamikaze fairy attacks, and brave resistance fighters led by a small goblin named Mud Bug Button. Theo is at sea, 'missing a place where I know the rules ... where I'm not always having to guess.'

Of course, there are revelations about Theo's background, about Eamonn Dowd and about the Terrible Child. Our hero meets the bad guys in the usual unequal confrontation, but music, 'a secret language' to Theo, ultimately saves him and two worlds from devastation and reminds him of what he is and where he wants to be. The tale ends happily ever after, 'One day at a time.' Though the action sometimes moves slowly through Williams' complex Faerie world, he's given us an impressive feat of imagination and a great read.

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