So I picked this up for no other reason than I liked the cover and the title. It doesn’t even have a blurb on the back (and since I bought it in a real live actual book shop, there was no internet about to check for one), which I quite like. It’s nice sometimes to pick a book for entirely superficial reasons and get something you maybe didn’t expect. Obviously I was expecting fairies, but beyond that…?
Anyway, as it happens, I didn’t really get on with it all that much. Which isn’t to say I don’t think it’s any good. On the contrary, I think it’s an excellent bit of literature and you should read it. It’s just not the most upbeat thing in the world, and I’m not in a great mood at the moment, so we sort of clashed. It’s a shame, because I can see me-who-isn’t-having-a-bad-day really really loving this book. It has a lot about it that I really love in general in a lot of my fiction (and in particular a lot that reminds me both of The Radleys and of Sixty One Nails – which it turns out has another sequel now, exciting!), but it’s also quite a sad book, and a complicated one, and I read it on a day when really, I ought to have read the other book in my bag (new Benedict Jacka book, this time in real paper – I will get to it soon, promise).
Possibly today is also a day for parentheses. Sorry.
Anyway, ignoring my grotty mood, I have a lot of good things to say about Joyce and his work. He does what Haig does well in The Radleys – he makes a very real, very flawed and incredibly normal family the centre of something completely abnormal, and he makes it work fabulously. I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, because a lot of the charm is in the mystery, but it has a good deal of is it/isn’t it going on about the fairy aspect, especially early on, and it presents the story from a number of viewpoints, but more importantly it presents the truth from a number of viewpoints. The way events play out is seen very differently through different eyes, and one of the characters has a whole little sub-plot that only seems tangentially related to the main plot at all. It’s multi-thread narrative done incredibly well, and it dots between the viewpoints at just the right places, leaving you slightly confused and wanting to know what they were going to think next, but then pulled away into a new thread, and so distracted by it that you forget you were left on a cliff-hanger.
Joyce writes his characters exceedingly well – again, like Haig. There is nothing unrealistic about them. No melodrama or grandiosity at all, and I think much more in the style of other genres (but the sort I don’t read, so I’m not actually sure), and it works very well with the sort of story he’s doing. On the other hand, I sort of felt the characters were too real. When you want escapist literature (which is what I wanted today), it sort of doesn’t work if the author is too good at his job and makes everything completely believable. But that’s just my grump. The way the characters interact is brilliant in almost all cases, and the one that isn’t… it sort of makes sense that it isn’t. The dynamic between the two main characters (arguably the two main ones, anyway), is a little odd, and doesn’t seem to quite work with the close family thing that is sort of stated, but it does sort of make sense in context so… I don’t know. It’s just slightly off. Minor niggle.
The one thing that did sit well with me, bad mood or no, is that Joyce chooses to set the book in the Midlands, and uses a lot of place names and landmarks I know and can easily picture, along with some that I don’t (or he made up, I’m not actually sure). It is incredibly pleasing for no good reason to read a book about things happening in Leicestershire. It doesn’t happen all that often, after all. It’s the same thing that kinda drew me to Mindstar Rising at first (followed shortly by that book being pretty blooming fantastic), and it happens rarely enough that it feels like a big thing.
Anyway, right now, I honestly can’t say I’m keen on the book, but that’s not a fair appraisal of its quality. I can see it’s good, amazing even, and if I were to read it next week or next month, I think I would genuinely love it. But not right now. That said, I think it’s good enough to recommend loudly and repeatedly. So yes. I recommend it. Go read it. It is good. Yes.