This is a book that I've been mad for ever since I read it…uh… maybe 24 years ago. I'd read a review of it and another book in a copy of the SCA publication Tournaments Illuminated, in an article about the SCA in fiction. The other book, Murder at the War, by Mary Monica Pulver I also have kicking around here somewhere–I read it maybe twice. This is not intended to be a slam on Pulver's work, only that her mystery set at Pennsic just didn't grip me, ravish me, make me shudder with glimpses of mystery. Beagle is one of fantasy's great stylists, and when the awen blows through him, he can sound the horns of Elfland.
The Folk of the Air doesn't specifically name the SCA, although it depicts an organization very much like it, as seen through the eyes of that romantic cynic, Joe Farrell (seen in Lila the Werewolf and "Julie's Unicorn"). I think the medieval recreationist folks in his work are a bit like what SCA folks (including me when I was still in it) wished the SCA was really like–or at least he certainly paints them with a kind eye. Every time I read it, I want to go do SCA things. I want to wear the lovely gowns and dance a pavane…
As with every Beagle work I've clapped eyes on, the characters foot you like a falcon and don't let go. Wistful, funny, sexy, enraging, bittersweet–oh, if I could write characters like Peter can, I'd be a happy woman.
Even though y'all know I don't care for urban fantasy, this is one I can unabashedly admit I love. Not because it's urban, or fantasy, but because–for me–the mélange of elements–magic, music, motorcycles, and baskets of deep fried rabbit all work because Beagle takes it all seriously. I don't mean he's somber and grim–I mean he takes all of these things seriously. He's not trying to be cute, or ironic, or giving you the wink-wink nudge-nudge, "jeez; goddesses; who'd believe in those?" He believes in his people, in his world, in his characters.
And in Sia, the black rock dancing in and out of time.
Go get your hands on a copy and read it.