This is one of the few books for this Fantasy Reading List that I have actually read before, maybe in the late 80's. It's one of our long-time favorites, primarily because it features the Shetani, also known as "The Most Frightening Monsters You Will Ever Read About In Any Book Ever," or "This is Why We Hate Using Airplane Bathrooms Even More Than Normal People Do," or "Pieces of Tire Tread at the Side of the Road are Completely Terrifying."
What I loved about this book still stands: it is urban fantasy based on the folklore of Tanzania (or MMBA, which stands for "Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa,") it is truly awesomely unique and entertaining, and quite riveting in the big movie-style Foster writes in (though sentences are not as graceful as they could be). I can forgive the endless Deus Ex Machina rescues from the disgusting Shetani, mostly because I can't think of any other way to resolve the endless attacks without killing off some main characters.
Lessons for Writers: An entertaining story does not have to be curlicued literature. The dangers of writing in present-day is that it will be read thirty years later and be dated, maybe, a little bit, (if you are lucky and someone reads your book thirty years later)
There are books on the Matter of Britain and books on The Matter of Christ, and this tender story is about both. Joby is a little boy who wants to be a Knight of the Round Table with all his heart, but he is in fact the focal point of the eternal argument between Lucifer and God. The adult, disillusioned Joby ends up in a Northern California hamlet named Taubolt, an amalgam of both Camelot and Eden, and quite reminiscent of the community in John Crowley's Aegypt Quartet. Although the story of Job is in its heart troubling and there were perhaps fifty pages in the middle that could have been trimmed down, Joby's story as a whole filled me with affection and awe.
It was a pleasure to read, too. I was so grateful for that, especially since it is well-over 600 pages long. (And this is his first novel! There should be more to come! And still, the author, Ferrari, has other surprises in hand: he is a fine artist who does fantasy art including book covers. He also cites as his writing influences authors that I have already read for this list and loved just as well: John Crowley, T.H. White, even Jasper Fforde.)
The writing lesson I gleaned from this is terrible. As much as I cared for Joby and wanted him to be happy, the parts where he was happy were, well, boring. I think this was intentional: God confides to his angels of his boredom with obedience, and Joby himself experiences some boredom with a safer life. This says a lot about life, but it also says a lot about writing. Do we, as writers, have to taunt our characters to make a story worth reading? Ah! The ramifications of that! It burns my heart.
Visit, visit Mark Ferrari's website. There is Art, Poetry, More!
In 2011, I began reading a list of 100 Great Fantasy Novels. I am listing them on this page.