Love this bookThere are two principal characters One is Sylvia an aging fantasy writer acclaimed within the SFF fandom community but not particularly known outside of it I m thinking like Robin Hobb level The kind of writer at the point in her life she s at might well get named a Damon Knight Grand Master I m not trying to gatekeep here I m really not but knowing what the Damon Knight Grand Master award is may well be a good barometer for how much you ll appreciate this book The other principal character who serves as the narrator lives in Sylvia s head He has no name but he s been Sylvia s muse and inspiration for her entire life Nearly every book she s written he s one of the characters Not in a Hoid from the Cosmere sense but he s always been inside one of the characters Hero villain side character important character who only shows p briefly but looms large even a dragon he s been them allAs the book begins Sylvia is trying to write a book without him I m worried you re getting stale but generally failing because he keeps worming his way in She s also dying of cancer which has the narrator frightened both because he loves her and because without her he ll die tooThe book revolves around Sylvia revisiting Ilyria one of her earlier worlds a world where immortality is possible thanks to the heroic efforts of one of the earlier embodiments of the narrator He s trying to convince her to go to Ilyria before she dies so they can keep living and he can exist outside of her What happens is a very meta story about stories where we learn about Sylvia s life at the same time she s trying to write this new book her final book and the narrator s attempts to steer things so that the two come together after convincing her that it s possible at all that Ilyria is real in a way she can go toThe parts about Sylvia s life feel very autobiographical I don t know if it is or not this is my first Jo Walton book and I don t know anything about her personal life but I have no doubt that even if the details have been changed she poured a great deal of herself into this bookThis was an ARC so it s not going to be generally available for a few months I m going to be waiting impatiently for it to come out because I m pretty certain I m going to be chewing on this for the entire time I want someone to talk about it with This wasn t a conventional read for me but I greatly enjoyed it Actual rating 35 stars I received a copy of this book from the publisher Tor and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review I have been a word on the tongue I have been a word on the page And I hope I will be again Or What You Will blew me away from the very first page The last time I got this excited over the first paragraphs of a book was when I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January which ended p being my favorite book of 2019 My pulse actually sped p as I read and I had to stop and go back and reread those first few paragraphs because they were just so gorgeous I had read passages to my husband and frantically text my fellow Novel Notions besties about how excited I was before I even finished that first chapter And I continued to deeply appreciate the writing all the way through and highlighted and annotated an incredible number of passages But after such a wonderful beginning things went from beautiful literary fiction to an nexpected accounting of the art scene of Renaissance Florence I mean I have no problem at all with the topic but that shift came out of nowhere I would say it was jarring if the air of the novel wasn t so meandering And then there were a ton of Shakespearean characters added into the mix which was surprising But the book never really came back to what I loved so much in those first few pages back to what I loved so much in those first few pages I d be lying if I didn t admit I was incredibly disappointed by that decision on Walton s part What am I What am I Figment fakement fragment furious fancy free form This is a book that doesn t hold your hand Walton expects readers to be familiar with certain histories and literary works and if they flounder that s not really her problem is it I would strongly advice anyone interested in reading this book who has no Shakespearean exposure to at least find summaries of Twelfth Night and The Tempest and read those before diving into Or What You Will There are micro seuels to read those before diving into Or What You Will There are micro seuels to plays in the pages of this book and those will make far sense if you have an idea of what said plays are about and who their characters are Said seuels also tie the two plays together in interesting ways I love the idea of these tales continuing on after the curtain closes and I love even the idea of those stories continuing on in a world parallel to ours where magic is real and the Renaissance never ended But these well worn characters nderwent little new development in my opinion regardless of their near eternal life in this magical world They continued on without really moving forward though I feel that might have been the point Imagine that power to make worlds I can make and shape and take no worlds I slide myself into the worlds I am given and find myself frame myself tame myself into the space there where I can see to be me The concept of telling a story from a fictional character s perspective while they re inside their author s head and aware of that fact is an interesting one As is this eternal magical Renaissance in a Florence
Populated With Shakespearean Castswith Shakespearean casts real historical artists and scholars Both stories had promise but in my opinion mixed about as well as oil and water There was a lack of continuity that was distracting every time the story flipped from the real world to the fictional world Sylvia who is the author of the fictional world and whose mind is the dwelling place of the nameless narrator has a very interesting back story But I felt that her story and the book she was writing never did fully cohere despite that being the point of the novel I d want the stars to be destinations not destiny This book is one of the most meta experimental novels I ve read in recent memory The ideas were wonderful and the narrative went in enough. Idea a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison 73 award winning author of thirty novels over forty years He has played a part in most of those novels and in the recesses of her mind Sylvia has conversed with him for years But Sylvia won't live forever any than any human does And he's trapped inside her cave of bone her hollow of skull When she dies so will heNo. There are two dangers I ve discovered in my decades of reading in the evocation of Shakespeare in fiction One is of course that many readers have avoided Shakespeare ever since that horrible class in high school in which you endured multiple choice estions about who was who and who said what in which act I ve found behind nearly every Shakespear yeccch comment a badly taught class The second danger is one for the reader familiar with the plays the echoes of brilliant words and complex emotions can totally overwhelm the actual novel in your hand Harold Bloom addressed this in his Anxiety of InfluenceBut then along comes this novel in which the prose is so lovely so image rich and full of allusion as well as illusion the Shakespearean layer is like the sun meeting the fountain Add in vivid word pictures of Florence and intriguing bits of Florentine history blended with breathtaking felicity through fandom and science fiction and fantasy lovers reality and beingI think of this as a writer s book Not that the reader must be a writer to enjoy it I don t think that s true but the meta woven so beautifully and poignantly through the novel will get into a writer s head in the most delicious way At least it did mine Though I do think that the reader nfamiliar with Shakespeare would do well to look at synopses of Twelfth Night and The TempestWalton s books are all Dance With The Devil uite different from one another except for their examination of a theme running through most of her recent fiction humans discovering how to be better humans How this works out in story form is one of the many delights to be discovered here To read this especially in this year of total crazy freighted insight and motivation generosity of thought and connection in a way so effective that I know I ll be returning to it again slowly It s alwaysnfair to rate books I haven t finished but I need a system to remind me whether I hated the book or whether it wasn t perhaps the right time for me to read it and I ought to think about revisiting it in the future So that s what this is The fact that this book is marketed as fantasy is shockingly ill advisedThis isn t a fantasy novel because those have a plot structure characters and conventions This book is a literary postmodern meditation masuerading as metafiction masuerading as fantasy While this layering may well be enjoyable to the right crowd of readers marketing it as fantasy just demonstrates the publisher didn t know what to do with it and then came p with the idea while being drunk But it made sense at the timeMarketing is all about setting the right expectations in readers and making sure the product lands with the right audienceThe book is a Umberto Eco esue collage of rambly meditations mixed with real world history bits with pseudo alternate history and pseudo fantasy and with literary reference porn it s porn when there s so much of it that it amounts to parading Alternatively it s a loose collection of essays that have been Arc Welded into a loose story that s dishing out 3000 references per minute while talking about something nconnected That s maybe not bad if you know all the references but it does not a book make What it makes is a very long inside joke between the writer and the several hundred people who have exactly the same pool of references provided that those people enjoy being briefly mentioned things they already know like in some sort of trivia contest It s like if I wrote a book where all my friends would make cameos where nothing happens which renders the book enjoyable to my inner circle of friends who amuse themselves with guessing who "S Who But Makes It Virtually Trash To Everyone ElseAnd " who but makes it virtually trash to everyone elseAnd of it is topped with a metatextual approach of meditative literary commentary Exactly like in literature class but cleverer I guess Also a lot looserWith this is mind it should be clear why it s misinformation to classify the book as fantasyThe problem with misclassifying is that the book gets to the wrong audience I m not the right audience I find the references and facts in the book interesting the fantasy bits nice and the rambly meditation writing style that connects the two both nnecessary and tedious I d like to read the facts as facts and the fiction as fiction but the mix makes me want to say get to the point already But the point is that the book needs to be enjoyed in the style it s written in which reuires a certain type of reader Beauty is in the eye of the wine holder or insert your preferred reference hereThing is there s so much collage that the original idea advertised in the blurb essentially vanishes Another thing is in order to appreciate this book you gotta like the historical bits and the pseudo history and the Shakespeare fan fiction and the bunch of literary references get your kicks out of metatextuality and the rambly meditation style and the slow development and the essay Arc Welding into story and don t be sour the idea you ve been sold doesn t feature a lot in the book Tall order which basically reduces the audience at every AND filter gateSo the real complete title of this work is This Is a Book Or What You Will This is not a book for beginners I hate saying that because it s super patronizing Malazan devotees I m looking at you but I kinda have to on this one Not because it expects you to remember a zillion details and characters there s about half a dozen of significance but because this is a book that assumes you are a serious serious reader If you haven t Read A Ton Of Books a ton of books fantasy books there s a lot that you re going to miss If you aren t interested in the craft of writing then this book is probably going to be boring If you re not at least vaguely familiar with The Tempest and Twelfth Night you re going to not nderstand a ton of things Walton doesn t feel the need to explain to the reader who Orsini and Miranda are But if you love hearing authors talk about their experiences and influences if you love reading rough cuts and early drafts and if books have been your constant companion for your entire life then there s a good chance you ll. From the Hugo Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning author of Among Others an tterly original novel about how stories are brought forthHe has been too many things to count He has been a dragon with a boy on his back He has been a scholar a warrior a lover and a thief He has been dream and dreamer He has been a god But “he” is in fact nothing than a spark of.