HERE’S THE PLAN: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and
share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one
that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of
some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be
buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to
pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others
to do the same.
So, confession time: I used to really dig urban fantasy. Of course, this was some time ago, and was often called contemporary fantasy, and didn’t always mean big cities or snarky protagonists who sport trench coats and tight leather pants, often packin’ some ginormous, sawed-off heat.
I’m sure you know what I mean. 😉
So, long before string theory and alternate realities became more science than fiction, I was fascinated with the concept of “otherworlds’ existing side by side with our own reality. I grew up with stories of pwcas and grogachs on one side of my clan, and from the other the Bohpoli and the Kowi Anukasha. When a ‘new’ sort of fantasy mirroring these otherworlds started to emerge, I was there. I wrote it. I read it. (And I have a lot of these titles upcoming on the TBR Retro Recs pile.)
All right, this has been a bit of digression, but I wanted to give some reasons as to why I’m going to stick with the old-school styling of ‘contemporary’ fantasy for some of these types of books I’ll be recommending. Because much of what has become known as ‘urban’ fantasy is just not my bag.
On the other hand, GOSSAMER AXE, by Gael Baudino, is.
Check out the cover, and picture this. A somewhat immortal druid harper has lost her lover to the fae. After several centuries’ worth of hopeless musical stand-offs-cum-rescue attempts, she discovers that this latest century has a secret weapon that should subdue the harp of any faery king: glam rock and electric guitars.
It has a townscape that’s less a noir crime scene and more the kind of town I personally recognise. (Sorry, just not a big-city person, me. Country lass, all the way.) It has a queer protagonist who doesn’t need a sawed-off shotgun or the epithet ‘strong woman’ to hold her power, and stands up as a fully-realised person with not only aged wisdom, but agency. (Though she does end up wearing tight pants—spandex, not leather.) Gossamer Axe also has a cast of troubled, interesting characters, who, with the help of her agency and determination, rediscover their own resilience.
In fact, the only character I found rather insipid was the fae-trapped lover. But sometimes people are, well, insipid.
The prose, though, is NOT insipid:
… pouring out of an ivory-coloured Strat and black Marshall amplifiers… the fat, electronic shriek of circuitry pushing overload, vacuum tubes glowing red hot, speakers vibrating in unnumbered frequencies, innumerable harmonics…
Music had changed since Christa had studied in Corca Duibne. The stately, unmodulated modes had, over the centuries, given way, first to the strict and predictable division of major and minor, and then to the polymorphous fire of chromatics, the black flame of harmonic minor and diminished scales. But Christa had paid little attention. She had had her instrument and her life. The branching, interweaving evolution of classical and popular music could not, would not, affect her.
Until now.GOSSAMER AXE, by Gael Baudino
While Ms Baudino certainly wields her own axe of good storytelling, she also was (still is, I hope) an accomplished musician. It shows. Not with a ‘see what I know’ egotism, perhaps with the forgivable bits of techno-jargon that simply bleed over with being an expert in your field, but overall with subtle layerings of complexity, ones to suggest competence and comfort with the subject.
(And yes, O youthful readers, the portrayed bigotry and misogyny—not only in the music industry, but life in general—is all too accurate. Unfortunately.)
Also unfortunately, Ms. Baudino has long given up on publishing. While I can’t blame her for making that choice, I also feel the reading public lost yet another unique harper. Gossamer Axe is long out of print, so you’ll have to find it used. But it’ll be well worth the search.