Tad Williams’ The War of the Flowers
by Miya Kressin
What would you do to stay alive? Would you abandon your world, your friends? Would you leave everything behind because what was in front of you was far less deadly than where you were, even if “tamer” or even “less frightening” could never apply? Would you destroy half your race just to create a world safe for you? Would you steal a child?
“We are none of us promised anything but the last breath we take, Theo Vilmos.” ~Mud Bug Button
For power? Would you kill friends or family? If you had the ability, would you use ancient magics banned by your society to destroy them? Would you destroy your way of life and force your way into unknown waters for the sake of a chance at being the new royalty? Would you create a changeling?
What about for love? Would you let your dreams die to keep your loved one? Would you try so hard only to find you were going the wrong way? Would you give up your world for love? Your family? Would you sentence a child to die for just a chance at saving your love? Would you make a bargain with your soul — or at least your body — as the wager?
“If you swear an oath here then you had better fulfill it or you will definitely reap the consequences and they will be unpleasant in some particularly apt way.” ~Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles
Bargains are dangerous everywhere, but none more so than Faerie. Your word is your life. At times, someone else’s word is your life. Promises have far reaching consequences — some bad, others equally good. Being ignorant of the wager you make does not change the fact that you made it. Perhaps you crossed a creek without asking permission of its guardians and found yourself owing a favor to the nymphs.
Or maybe you were just clueless in general until your life was on the line. That was Theo’s story. Theo Vilmos starts off as thirty-year-old lead singer who can’t even claim to being a “has been.” He’s a never-was who squandered his talent. Before life took its toll on Theo, he was known for his potential. But, potential and talent alone won’t get you where you need to be if you don’t have the drive to reach for your dreams and get your hands dirty with the hard work to get there.
After two devastating blows dropped him to an all-time low, Theo left his mother’s house as it had never felt like home and the city behind to rent a cabin up in the forested mountains and take time to think. In his quiet moments, he began reading the odd memoir written by his mother’s late uncle who believed he had visited the magical world of Faerie. From the moment he began the odd hunt to find what an inherited safety deposit box key may hold for him (an odd novel that seemed as much memoir as it was fantasy,) Theo lost his tremulous hold on the mortal world.
In Tad Williams’ The War of the Flowers, multiple stories are spun onto the same intricate thread, stories I will attempt to share glimpses of without also giving spoilers. Love, power, and survival dance together to a beautiful dirge foretelling the destruction of an entire realm, and the reader is left uncertain if it will be the mortal world or Faerie. Maybe it should be Faerie. The magical realm is nothing like the childhood images of happy, winged creatures dancing through fields of flowers. Their own legends tell of a time like that before the King and Queen left, leaving another sort of flower important.
The Flowers are families comprising a sub-race of fae who are in charge of the politics, power (our idea of magic is their science,) and the social hierarchy. The closer a creature is to looking mortal, the higher one ranks in the political games, going so far as to cut off wings and dye their hair or eyebrows to appear more human.
“Oh, the color? It’s nothing—they were always white like this. I decided to stop dyeing them, that’s all. To stop pretending I wasn’t a Thornapple.” ~Poppy Thornapple.
The first fae Theo met, however, were nothing like the Flowers, nor were they as pleasant. While Applecore is a sprite—a tiny, winged being capable of casting magic charms like most other fae—she is far from the Tinkerbell character we’ve long associated with those like her. With a mouth like a sailor and an even sharper temper, ‘Core is loyal even if she’s bitchy.
“Tell you what, boyo, I’m trying to save your life and you’re not helping. Maybe I should take one of these sticks and lodge it up your back passage. That’d make you walk slow enough.” ~Applecore
A sharp-tongued sprite was far from his worse worries however. It was the irrha, a “corruption of moonlight”dark spirit sent by the Flowers to bring Theo across without consent, who freezes you to the spot, pushing you to keep reading to ensure that the protagonist isn’t caught. You’re first introduced to the irrha when it kills a mortal and steals its deformed body in its mindless attempt to catch the Theovilmos creature.
In his attempts to avoid this irrha, Theo and Applecore begin a journey through Faerie that not only takes them to the City (the only city) but also takes them on a journey into the soul of a man who is not quite what he seems. Events set into motion before he was born became the ones that would eventually lead to changing his home world into one that would never be the same. In a story where our world and Faerie have made several intimate exchanges of souls, identifying one’s true state becomes harder and harder.
“Black iron, you’re a mortal!”
“No. Well, sort of. It’s a long story. Do you want to hear it?” ~Poppy and Theo
While wandering New Erewhon, Theo is taken to the nautilus shell shaped City, where he wanders from the outlying counties named for trees (Rowan and Birch are two of the most often named) and into spiraled city districts. Entering in Sunrise, Theo and Applecore go on a journey through Morning Sky and Forenoon and all the way into Eventide and Moonlight. It is the eventual journey to the Midnight realm as he meets the voice of his nightmares where Theo must make a decision between life, love, and power. Which will he choose? If you could only have one, or prevent another from having them at great personal cost, which would you choose? What bargain would you make?
The War of the Flowers, where you shouldn’t make a bargain unless you’re guaranteed the desired outcome and are willing to pay any price.
Miya Kressin is an author, mother, caffeine addict, wife, and fiber artist- though not necessarily in that order. When not playing with her three daughters (a 7 y/o and twin 4 y/os,) Miya can be found writing or working her way through a stack of random crafts and art projects if she can get pulled away from her gaming fun.
Her novel The Changeling’s Champion was released by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House in 2010 and has since been picked up for a second edition by Exciting Press. Exciting Press has also picked up her fantasy trilogy The Island.