The Folk of the Air is my first Peter Beagle book, and I certainly have been remiss in taking this long to get to him. And while I’m given to understand that this is considered to be one of his more flawed works, it’s nonetheless a lovely introduction to what the man can do with the written word.
There’s definite magic for me in this prose. Right out of the gate, I adored that the hero’s Volkswagen van was named Madame Schumann-Heink, that the vehicle was very definitely a “she”, and that she normally couldn’t make it to fifty miles an hour without a tailwind and two days’ advance notice. I loved the casual juxtaposition of a thinly-disguised SCA with actual magic; this made the whole thing play for me as less a fantasy novel per se and almost more as magic realism, which is not a bad thing. And I very much loved that the character Sia, the crux around which the action revolves, is not beautiful or young or even overtly desirable; she is, however, elemental and primal and very compelling. She is a pillar of stone against the sound and fury of young Aiffe and Nicholas Bonner.
In the midst of all of this, protagonist Joe Farrell is almost a nonentity. He’s likable enough, but he doesn’t so much as participate in the action as stumble across it, and he has very few points at which a choice or action of his is necessary to dictate how the plot will flow. As a result he has little character development. Much of what we find out about him as a character is simply because other characters keep telling him he’s like this or like that.
There are those who find the ending quite a bit of a mess. I’m not one of them; I followed the ending well enough. But because of Joe’s relative lack of active participation, I found it difficult to get really invested in what was going on. Also, it didn’t help that there was almost too much quirkiness in many of the side characters. It seemed like pretty much every single minor character was “colorful”, to the degree that after a while I couldn’t help but feel as though I kept getting hit with a barrage of characters going “look how quirky I am! Look how quirky I am! Aren’t I just QUIRKY?”
Still, though, all in all, worth my time. Three stars.