Today I am revisiting one of my favorite books of the last twenty years, The War of the Flowers by +Tad Williams. Originally published in 2003, I first bought this book the day it was released as a paperback. I've often said I will always buy a book for its cover, and I liked the art so much that I bought the book despite the rather lackluster blurb. The REAL reason I bought this book—Tad Williams has an incredible ability to write a tale that grips the reader and drags them in, blurring the lines between the real and the imagined with his trademark virtuosity.
Theo Vilmos' life is about to take a real turn for the worse.
He is drawn from his home in Northern California into the parallel world of Faerie, for, unknown to him, he is a pivotal figure in a war between certain of Faerie's powerful lords and the rest of the strange creatures who live in this exotic realm.
This is a REAL fairy tale. Theo Vilmos doesn't know it, but he is a changeling. Switched at birth, he suffers from a disconnection from the world of Northern California, always feeling as he lived somehow outside of the rest of society. He is a rock musician, and pours his heart into his music.
His life has somewhat gone to hell, and at the age of thirty he's a washed up rocker reduced to playing with a bunch of young wanabes. His mother (or the woman he'd believed was his mother) is dead, his unborn child has died and his girlfriend blames him for the child's death.
After his mother's death, Theo discovers a book written by his great-uncle, Eamonn Albert Dowd, among his inheritance. Theo's imagination is fired by the book. He assumes the book is a work of fiction as it describes a character who travels the world and eventually discovers an ancient passage into another world full of fairies and other mythical creatures. He quickly discovers the true nature of his uncle's book as he is rescued from the clutches of an ancient disease-spirit known as an irrha by a small fairy named Applecore.
The World of Faerie is not such a pretty place either. The very rich use the very poor in the most literal sense of the word, with no compassion and no regrets. The powerful houses have long been at war and all of the magic creatures are caught up in it. Fairie suffers from all the blight of the mortal urban world, and then some. Fairies come in a range of humanoid and nonhumanoid forms. The more powerful fairies look like extremely beautiful humans with elvish features and, unlike fairy commoners, lack wings.
These members of the noble houses are known as Flowers and are divided into several influential families, each named after a different type of flower.
Seven great family houses rule over the rest of the houses: Thornapple, Hellebore, Violet, Lily, Daffodil, Hollyhock and Primrose, but the Violets are now extinct, having been wiped out by an alliance of the other six great houses in the last War of the Flowers. Other prominent families include Daisy and Foxglove. The families are divided into three factions, those who believe that the fairies should coexist with humans, called Creepers, those who believe that humans should be eradicated, called Chokeweeds, and those who are uncertain what to do, called Coextensives.
Passage between the worlds is restricted by the Clover Effect. Each person, human or fairy, has one exemption from the effect; in other words they can only travel once to the other world and then back to their own.
Theo Vilmos is a great character—slightly flawed and rather naïve for a man of 30 years of age. He makes many friends and enemies in a very short space of time. He does stupid things and regrets them. Still, we find ourselves rooting for Theo, and enjoying the ride.
Applecore is a wonderful character. For such a tiny creature, she is full of fire and passion, loyal to a fault and is my favorite character in this tale. She's a gutsy, gritty heroine who also has her flaws.
In The War of the Flowers Tad Williams created a Faerie Land unlike anything you ever read. It’s Faerie on steroids, urban, dirty and nothing is what it seems. This book doesn't get the sort of attention it deserves, in my opinion. The War of the Flowers is the sort of book that people will read twice— I've read it 3 times myself.
So far as I've been able to find, this book is not available for the Kindle, but it is available in paperback. I know +Tad Williams is NOT an indie, but stretch your wings, readers. Go mainstream for a moment and enjoy the journey! This is the sort of writing with the plot development and world building we indies aspire to. Williams is a master, and it is a nearly physical pleasure to sink into a corner of the sofa with one of his books in hand, and ignore the real world for the day.