Monday, August 19, 2013

It began with a single lie

Have I mentioned before how much I like whimsy? At least when it's whimsy mixed with something strange. Christopher Moore said his first book was the result of someone telling him that you couldn't mix horror and whimsy, and he said "Well, fuck that noise" and wrote Practical Demonkeeping. Or like Pushing Daisies which is bursting at the seams with whimsy, but there's also lots of strange stuff like a guy that can temporarily bring back the dead. So I guess I'm saying I don't like pure whimsy but instead whimsy cut with something dark. Can I tell you how much I liked the whimsy in Daniel Wallace's The Kings and Queens of Roam? Because it's a lot.

In one way the story is about the McCallister sisters Helen and Rachel. The great-granddaughters of Elijah McCallister, founder of the city of Roam, Helen is the older homely sister, while Rachel is the beautiful but blind younger sister. The two sisters are never apart. Rachel relies on Helen for everything, which Helen simultaneously resets and requires. It began when they were small children and Helen switched faces with Rachel. Not literally, that would be a little too dark and not enough whimsy. Helen told Rachel that Helen was the great beauty of the family and it was Rachel who was ugly. People would tell her she was beautiful to make her feel better, because it's bad enough she's blind. This lie lead to a lifetimes of stories about how scary and dangerous the world is. When their parents die the sisters only have each other. Until that's not enough.

But the story isn't just about the sisters. It's really about the dying city of Roam. It was once a prosperous city, a major manufacturer of silk. There's Elijah McCallister and his best friend/kidnap victim (SEE whimsy + something dark) Ming Kai. There's a lumberjack and his dog pack, the very-short-but-not-actually-a-midget bartender Digsby, the well-meaning but slow mechanic, Ming Kai's (great?) grandson Markus, and the town ghosts. It's about pasts, the stories we tell ourselves and others, about forgiveness and redemption. And did I mention the whimsy? I keep seeing people describe it as magical realism, but I really don't know much about that genre to say for sure if it is. It seems like it and these other people saying it seem smart, so let's go with that. This is magical realism.

I've only ever read one other Daniel Wallace book, Big Fish. And I read that only after I saw the movie which I LOOOOOVED by the way. This is still the only movie I've seen where when it came time for the movie to end I got mad because I wanted more. I have been doing myself a disservice not reading more of his stuff, assuming it all has this whimsical quality. Because I really loved The Kings and Queens of Roam. It's sad and it's funny and I hated some characters but then I realized that the characters are too complex to just hate because there's so much more there. If any of those keywords I spouted out above (whimsy, magical realism, Big Fish, Pushing Daisies, loved, etc) connected with you, you should read this. Because it's so so good.

Separate from the story, but I love the cover. Most of the time I honestly could care less about the book cover. Sometimes they draw me in but most of the time they really don't make a difference to me either way.* This cover though I love. I love the colors, I love the font, I love the silhouette, just the whole thing. I was going to say I don't know who did that but then I bothered to look at the fine print and read that it was Matt Curtius and while that name means nothing to me cos I don't know anything about book covers (see my comment about not normally caring) I feel like he should be pointed out cos this is so pretty.

I also want to again point out how awesome Emma Dickey from Regal Literary is because I got a review request from her that pretty much prompted my post about how to ask for reviews. Hers did everything right AND it turned out the book kicked ass, which is really just a bonus for me. So yeah, in case it wasn't clear, I accepted a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

*There are obviously exceptions, and not just this one. I also loved the cover to Blackbirds and hated the cover of another book that I accepted in exchange for a review, and since I didn't really love that book (and especially hated the cover) I won't mention it/link to it here. Because it would feel a big dead horse floggy.

Title quote from page 275

Wallace, Daniel. The Kings and Queens of Roam. Touchstone, 2013.