A Visit to Bordertown

I've been on a bit of a rampage lately, reading several books by married writers Will Shetterly and Emma Bull in a row. I enjoyed the stories very much, although I have to say that I also cried myself to sleep over one of them so it wasn't all sunshine and roses. I read War of the Oaks by Emma, Finder by Emma, Nevernever by Will, Elsewhere by Will and I've got the Gospel of the Knife by Will waiting for me to get enough spare time to give it the attention it deserves.

Elsewhere, Nevernever and Finder are all connected, taking place in the same place, in and around Bordertown, which is on the border between the Elflands and the World, and featuring some of the same characters. Elsewhere takes place first chronologically and tells the story of Ron, a boy with an enormous chip on his shoulder who has run away from home and is searching for his older brother. We first meet Ron on the train coming into Bordertown as his hot head and smart mouth get him into trouble. (Hint – when you're a stowaway you want to lay low - not make a fuss and give the conductor a reason to kick you off the train.) Ron decides indiscretion is the better part of valor and makes a dramatic departure from the train while it's still rolling.

To his chagrin, his exit is witnessed by two halfies, Mooner and Wiseguy, half elf half humans, who are riding spell driven motorbikes. Mooner offers Ron a ride on the back of his motorbike and a place to stay at Castle Pup, an experiment in communal living and one of the few places in Bordertown where elves, humans and halfies commingle in peace. Here Ron meets and befriends a young girl called Florida, mute and feral, and tries to figure out how to deal with his crush on Wiseguy.

As Ron tries to settle into life in Bordertown his hot temper and insecurities continue to land him in trouble. He doesn't just have trouble with his new friends and his roommates – he also goes on a drunken rampage one night and wakes up to discover he's drunk water from the river that runs between the Elflands and the World. This water is extremely addictive and detrimental, affecting humans in the same way some of our worst street drugs affects us. Ron has also apparently put the moves on Sparks, a young woman who lives in Castle Pup and has a crush on Ron. Since he's still hung up on Wiseguy he's made everyday life even more complicated and uncomfortable.

I had some trouble with Elsewhere when I first tried to read it. I felt like I do when my youngest son tells me a story about one of his classmates making an awful mistake. Ron makes a series of bad decisions, each one making me cringe more than the last. I ended up putting the book down for quite some time, until my youngest son read it and told me finish it. So I did and this time I was able to get past my angst and read straight through and into the next book, Nevernever.

As far as I can tell Nevernever and Elsewhere aren't really two books. Instead they're two halves of a whole, with Nevernever picking up where Elsewhere leaves off. I don't want to get into the plot because if I do I'll spoil Elsewhere for you as some major events occur towards the end of that portion of the story. But you should probably go ahead and get both books before you start Elsewhere because you're not going to want to wait to see what happens next.

Finder is the third book in the series and it's set some time after the other two books. While Rob and some of his friends are briefly in the book the main character is Finder, also called Orient, a minor character in Will's two books. Finder has an ability which you can probably figure out from his name; he finds that which is lost. In fact he can't stop finding it, once his talent manifests he's feels a pull towards whatever it us until he tracks it down. His best friend Tick-Tick, aka the Fixer, is an elf who left the Elflands because her highborn family didn't understand her love of all things mechanical.

The book is a mystery, detailed, compelling and multi-layered. Someone is manufacturing a drug that they claim will turn humans into elves, or at least enough like elves that they can cross the border. Orient is drawn into the mystery when Sunny Rico, a human Bordertown cop, asks him for help finding a murderer. Orient's life becomes very complicated very quickly as he gets too involved in the case, fights his growing attraction to Sunny, tries to deal with a plague that is attacking the elves of the city and stay alive. There are plenty of explosions and excitement, so much so that I personally had a major anxiety attack over concern for the characters and finally ended up crying myself to sleep over a turn of events.

As I read these books I was struck anew by how well Emma and Will write, and how different their styles are. Will writes in a completely accessible, simple way, so that I barely notice I'm reading. There's very little to get in the way of me and the story. Emma's writing is always a little difficult for me to get into. I have to read a few pages and then something clicks in my brain and I'm deep in the story, only coming out when I run across a sentence (and there are many) that I absolutely love. Then I read that sentence over and over a few times, maybe forcing whoever might be around to listen to it, then jump back into the story. It's fascinating to see both of these stellar authors's take on the same town and some of the same people.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Burned Out who has this to say about the presidential election, "It was too long and too ugly. I don't know which were worse, the ads or the rumors. I can't wait to put it all behind me and watch the nation heal and get to work solving our problems." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.