Tad Williams,
The War of the Flowers
(DAW, 2003)

Tad Williams' The War of the Flowers is remarkable in a number of ways, the least of which is that it is 675 pages long without a single wasted word. Usually a novel that hefty makes me think of premium feature flavor ice cream with so much air whipped into it that I long for the denseness of simple vanilla. The War of the Flowers is one of the rare exceptions.

Theo Vilmos is a 30-year-old musician living in northern California and eking out his existence in a series of bands and with a florist delivery job. He lacks direction, purpose and ambition, although his girlfriend's pregnancy seems to stir him to some level of responsibility.

Suddenly, though, everything goes horribly wrong, and Theo is completely alone. He retreats to a mountain cabin along with a handwritten journal from a great uncle, Eammon Dowd. In the solitude of the mountains, he loses himself in his great-uncle's account of a visit to a different world, a place that Dowd identifies as Faerie.

Theo is ready to dismiss the whole thing until a potty-mouthed sprite named Applecore appears to transport him to Faerie, literally out of the clutches of a foul creature also sent after Theo. Now he has a completely new world to get used to, a world that is similar to his own in many ways yet unmistakably different. It's a place ruled by a handful of families, the "Flower" families divided into houses called Daffodil and Daisy and Hellebore -- and too many of these flower fairies have an interest in Theo.

In true fantasy tradition, Theo falls headlong into an adventure along with an odd assortment of companions. It would be pointless to try to capture the entire plot here. Williams does a magnificent job of keeping track of his characters and plot threads, handling them deftly without missing a beat. The pieces fit together beautifully, no matter how small the piece is, and at the same time, Williams never loses the sweep and savor of his story. Often a writer excels at either the big picture or the details. Williams has mastered both elements.

Theo is an instantly sympathetic character, a bit thick at times, a bit feckless -- he's someone who wants to do things right but always gets in his own way. Applecore is more than happy to slap him upside the head, but she also proves to be a loyal and constant friend. The other characters are effective and well drawn as well; even minor characters are skillfully drawn. The characters crackle with life, and they lend solid support to the story.

This is the kind of book that is nearly impossible to put down, one that stays with you after you close the cover. It is bittersweet at its end, because you still want just a bit more. Williams provides a list of characters, places and things at the end, and while the list is useful, it is not entirely necessary; the characters and events are that memorable.

Wholly original, fresh and enthralling, The War of the Flowers is one of my favorite novels this year. Immerse yourself in it, too.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 24 January 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.