Now and again I hope to offer a few comments on books I’ve read that seem to me connected to the concept of “sideways-in” fantasy. Today’s post does that. (Warning: This post contains spoilers.)
|Image from penguin.com|
If you think about this novel in terms of how it handles the folktale tradition, some interesting points emerge. One, the writers have worked hard to bring forward a consistent vision of the fey realm, its workings and (in the part of the tradition from which they draw) its dual nature (good and evil fairy courts, in particular). Their portrayal of the fey realm succeeds insofar as it evokes an almost pagan sensibility. It’s not the only way to think of fairies, but it is potent, frightening, and thoroughly magicked. (Compare, for instance, “Tamlane,” among the darker fairy tales.)
Another point seems obvious: The writers have given serious thought to how this fey realm could be thought to interact with ours. Like many fantasies set in today’s world, things happen in the story that would seriously restructure the world as we know it. This leads to what amounts to an alternate “modern world,” much like fantasy set in the vaguely “Middle Ages” amounts to an alternate “medieval world.” More, the tale takes on an almost apocalyptic feel toward its end. If you don’t care for that sort of thing, then you don’t. But it’s part of the modern fantasy tradition.
In other words, Except the Queen makes innovations within a recognizable tradition—as it should. Its plot—I mean, the story itself and how it unfolds and how it gets resolved—owes more to the fantasy genre (and the novel tradition more generally) than it does to the folktales from which it draws. But, as we might expect from Yolen and Snyder, the novel seems unusually conscious of (and respectful toward) folk traditions about fairies and their magic, frivolity, and potency. It brings these traditions forward and makes something meaningful of them within the narration of the story. That’s the vibrancy, I would argue, at the heart of this fantasy novel.
(Without it, by the way, you would have a fairly customary plot, however interesting: Strayed girl and abused boy meet up with the help of two old meddling eccentric women, and find their roots (for the girl) and end the cycle of abuse (for the boy). That’s what people who classify these things would call a “literary novel.”)
Dealing with fey subjects is never easy, I think, however riotous it seems at first glance. Kudos to Yolen and Snyder for their respectful handling of the tradition in an urban fantasy.