Faerie Wars and The Road

I recently finished a four book fantasy series by Irish author Herbie Brennan, which I enjoyed very much. The first book is called Faerie Wars and is set in two worlds, ours, which is called the analog world, and the faerie world, which is divided into several parts including a version of hell. The story is essentially told from two perspectives, that of Henry, who lives in the analog world and is pretty unhappy with his home life, and that of Pyrgus, who lives in the fairy world and is also dissatisfied with his home life, but in a very different way.

Henry's home live is in an uproar. His parents are in the middle of a breakup after one of them admits they are having an affair. Henry's sister is in love with her horse and rejoices in making Henry miserable. His only relief from the tension at home is his summer job working for Mr. Fogarty, a mad old inventor whose house is in a wretched state. Life changes for both of them when Mr. Fogarty's cat catches what looks like a butterfly but is really something quite different.

When we first meet Pyrgus he is running from a bunch of thugs who want to kill him for freeing a Golden Phoenix. In the next few chapters he is nearly sacrificed to a demon, poisoned and transferred to the analog world, where he appears shrunken to a tiny size and wearing wings. In other words he looks like a classic fairy. There he meets Henry and Mr. Fogarty who go to work trying to find a way to send him home again.

This is no happy scrappy romp in the fairy woods. It may be fantasy but if so it's clearly dark fantasy, edging towards horror. There are scenes of torture in some of the later books that made me extremely uncomfortable like when Henry is captured by some aliens and, well you know what aliens are rumored to do.

The books feature engaging characters, interesting magic, which does come with a price, danger and derring-do, beautiful girls and kittens. What's not to love? I particularly enjoyed a quest that took place in a desert where Henry meets a young native lad who is on a quest to become a man. The young fellow is immensely charming, brave and loyal. The entire series is worth reading just for this one wonderful character. You can read a small excerpt from the first book here.

The Road
The other book I read this week is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My sixteen-year-old son gave it to me, telling me I should read it the day before it was due back at the library. When I said I wasn't sure if I would have time to finish it before it was due he assured me it was a quick read, clocking in around 250 pages. Technically it is a fast read, a short novel, but in terms of impact, it's an epic three-thousand page doorstop of a book.

Told from the point of view of a nameless couple, a father and son duo, the story takes place in a burnt world where ash falls from the sky. (Did you read Mistborn? Kind of like that, but much more extreme.) There is no sign of animal or plant life, not even an insect.

The two are on a trek to the sea, where the father hopes to escape from the unending, unbearable cold, and perhaps, find some people who are "good guys." There isn't just a dearth of plant and animal life in this cold, bitter world, there is also a dearth of good guys. Cannibals and murderers roam the land, making the protagonists' journey exponentially more dangerous.

The father is trying to shield what remains of the boy's innocence and one of the recurring themes of the book is a need for father and son to reassure each other that they are good guys and that they carry the fire, which is both real and metaphorical. There are several exceedingly grim, pivotal scenes where that fire flickers, or is dimmed, by what they see or experience. There are also some choices that must be made, which come at the expense of their internal fire.

This was the first book I've read by Mr. McCarthy but I did see No Country for Old Men (long time readers of this column will know I loved it) so I know that he's not exactly kind to his characters. The book was extremely grim and I kept worrying it was going to get even more grim. I had a sort of low grade anxiety attack the entire time I was reading, with my stomach churning and my heart racing.

I've read loads of post apocalyptic stories and never been quite that worried. Swan Song was one I quite liked, as was the Postman (not the film, the novel.) I think it's because no matter how bad things were in the other stories there was always something to eat somewhere. In The Road there just isn't anything growing at all, beyond a few mushrooms, which means there is very little hope for long-term survival.

It took a little while to get into the story because the rules of grammar have been somewhat mangled. Apostrophes are used in a haphazard fashion, sometimes there and sometimes and sometimes not. Dialogue isn't set off in any way and the point of view can be a little difficult to figure out since neither of the protagonists have names. I got used to the odd style after a bit and didn't notice it anymore. In the meantime the uncomfortable feeling it gave me kind of added to the ambience of the book.

You should be able to browse the book here. I've had a spot of trouble with this technology in the past though, so I make no guarantees.

One-Paragraph Review
This week we have an announcement instead of a one paragraph review. I'm in the middle of launching a new site called shoestring living, designed to help everyone stretch their dollars until they scream. I'm looking for submissions, either of tips or actual blog entries. If you've got something you'd like to share you can send it in to me at georgiana.lee@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.