The Book of Love

For a couple of decades now, Kelly Link has been one of the stars of the fantasy short fiction scene. She’s won a Hugo, three Nebulas and three Word Fantasy Awards amongst a fine collection of trophies. And in all that time, people have been asking her, “Kelly, when are you going to write a novel?”

The longer it goes on, of course, the harder it becomes. And then the MacArthur Foundation went and gave her a million bucks so she could go and write in peace and security. No more excuses. Can you imagine the pressure? You have to deliver, and you can’t just produce any old fantasy novel. You are Kelly Link, you have to produce the Great American Fantasy Novel.

So does The Book of Love fit the bill? Well obviously everyone’s reaction to a book is different. Suffice it to say that, a few chapters in, I was starting to think, “why does anyone else bother writing, when Link can do this?”

The Book of Love is set in the small Massachusetts seaside town of Lovesend. Is that Love Send, or Love’s End? Who knows? It is, however, the home of Caitlynn Hightower, America’s most successful and celebrated romance writer. And we all know that people in romance novels have happy endings. If only that were true of ordinary people.

Let’s meet our protagonists. Laura and Susannah Hand are two sisters currently attending the town’s high school. Together with their neighbour and childhood friend, Daniel Knowe, they have formed a band. It is called My Two Hands Knowe You. Terrible name. Not a great band either. But Laura knows that she will make it in the music business one day, with or without the band. As for Susannah and Daniel, well being in a band is fun, and despite Laura’s insistence on No Fucking between band members…

Then, one day, Laura, Daniel, and their friend Mo, all vanish. The police are baffled. There’s no trace of them. The book begins eleven months later. Despite Laura being the most annoying younger sister any girl could possibly have, Susannah is still distraught and furious. It’s a good job that, unlike Laura, she didn’t have any plans for her life. But something strange is about to happen.

In the music room of their school, Laura, Daniel and Mo step back into their real world. Their music teacher, Mr. Anabin, appears to be some sort of magician, and may have brought them back from that awful place they now only part remember. It appears that they have been dead, and now they are not.

That would be quite enough of a problem. But also there is this fellow called Bogomil who can turn into a wolf and who appears to be the lord of wherever they had gone. He and Anabin are enemies of some sort. Bogomil wants the kids back, and unless they can solve some sort of riddle he will get them.

Oh, and someone else came through into life at the same time as the kids. Someone who has been dead for a very long time.

The most immediate problem is what to tell friends and family. Mr. Anabin has a fix for that. Now everyone in Lovesend thinks that the three kids have been out of the country on a music scholarship. So folks, next time that you hear someone say that they are “going to Ireland”, be aware that this may be a euphemism for spending some time dead. Thanks Kelly, that’s hilarious!

What else do you need to know? Well for starters Mo is actually Mohammed Gorch. He is Caitlynn Hightower’s grandson. And yes, he’s brown and Muslim, and gay. As for the sainted Ms. Hightower, beloved of women all over America, she’s just a penname. Her real name is Maryanne Gorch. She’s a Black girl from Tennessee who, years back as a single mother in the Deep South, decided to try her luck at romance writing and made a fortune.

You may also have noticed that our two heroines have the surname, Hand. Obviously Kelly Link and Liz Hand know each other. Neither Laura nor Susannah is much like Liz, save for their love of music. Susannah, however, strikes me as the sort of girl who might, given the wrong choices in life (and Susannah is a master of making wrong choices) grow up to be someone like Cass Neary. As for Laura, all I’m going to say is that I think Link loves Waking the Moon as much as I do.

In style, The Book of Love seems to me very reminiscent of John Crowley. I was pleased to discover, on a recent visit to London, that John Clute agrees with me on this. And frankly, if you are going to write the Great American Fantasy Novel, you pretty much have to reference Little, Big in some way.

I should also note that The Book of Love is very long. I think it is worth the time, but your mileage may vary. Around half way through we start to find out a lot of what is actually going on, and who Anabin and Bogomil actually are. If you can make it that far, I think you’ll want to go to the end. But you may give up before then because you find it all too confusing.

Finally I should note that this is a book I would class at YA. That’s because it is a book about actual teenagers who have genuine teenage preoccupations that are treated seriously by the author. It doesn’t strike me as something that actual teenagers would roll their eyes at. Some adults, on the other hand, might think those kids just need to grow up a bit.

Which reminds me, the characterization of all of the humans (and tigers) in this book is spot on. The supernatural characters are perhaps a little less convincing, but the book isn’t really about them. Link’s portrait of a small seaside town struggling to some extent with the onset of multiculturalism also seems very real to me.

It should be clear that I love the book. Lots of other people do too. Many of them are big name writers. Comments like ‘genius’, ‘pure enchantment’ and ‘greatest living fabulist’ are being bandied around. But the blurb that struck me was one from Cory Doctorow. He said:

“Link wraps a terrifying core of rusty razor blades in deceptive layers of charming, daffy quirkiness.”

He’s spot on. You have been warned, but you will be charmed.

book cover
Title: The Book of Love
By: Kelly Link
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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