The Weaving by Gerald Costlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The fantasy novel The Weaving marks the debut of short story writer Gerald Costlow as a novelist. Published by the Pill Hill Press, The Weaving is a clever, charming, and playful fantasy that injects fresh creativity into clichés like the witch and the black cat and the trickster coyote.
The adventure opens with Rose, the famous and powerful Witch of the Woods, deciding that her loneliness has become unendurable. A witch always lives the single life because of the demands of her craft and the general reluctance of men to enter into a relationship with someone who can turn you into a frog. But Rose longs for love and she works her magic so that she can visit the Goddess and petition the divine to send her a mate. Rose's cat, Tom, advises against this reckless course, but Rose conjures her portal and goes through anyway. The Goddess is known as the Mother of All and also the Keeper of Stories. She tells Rose that she is not meant to have a lover, but, when the Goddess looks away, Rose daringly adds the word "romance" to her story.
The Witch of Woods returns from her holy visit without any knowledge of what happened. Tom the cat is no longer present, but Tom the man mysteriously arrives and is grievously ill. Rose nurses him back to health and they become happily married. Tom has no recollection of his past whatsoever.
What seems to be lovely for Rose has unfortunately set many things in the world amiss. In a neighboring kingdom, the ambitious Prince Valant (not Valiant) and the mediocre wizard Maynard unleash an ancient horror in the form of Lilith. This beast looks like an attractive woman but she possesses dreadful magic and tends to eat people.
To counter the growing evil of Lilith, three powerful immortal women, known simply as the Ladies, plot to destroy their ancient enemy. With the help of Keyotie, a shapeshifter who can be either man or coyote, the Ladies enlist their allies to move against Lilith and Prince Valant. Rose and Tom have an integral part to play in the attack on Lilith, and Tom is told that he will find out about his missing past during the quest.
Tom is a likeable character, but seemingly ill suited to dangerous adventure. He is generally most comfortable loafing about his wife's cottage and ignoring chores. His attempts at weapons training are disappointing, but he can throw a punch with great effect.
As The Weaving progresses a sprawling adventure with many characters unfolds. An important supporting character emerges in a man called the Duke. He is a brilliant strategist and is attracted to one of the Ladies. All the characters in the story come across in a very genuine way. Little details about their hopes and insecurities make them feel real. For example, Rose fears that Tom might find out he actually has another wife in his past, so she seeks sexual advice from a prostitute in order to make herself more desirable. And the overweight Duke begins to daydream seriously about losing weight as his attraction to one of the Ladies intensifies.
The characters in The Weaving provide its great strength as a story. The fantasy world is rich with detail with interesting little references to a unicorn, dragons, and a refreshing view of elves. In The Weaving, elves are a savage race that humans need to continually battle back to the fringes of the wilderness. This is a pleasing contrast to the usual fantasy book portrayal of elves as nearly angelic beings.
Costlow's novel possesses a steady pace without becoming draggy, but it thrives mostly from cleverness instead of raw action. Diplomatic finesse plays a bigger role than battle field bravado, and this serious tale maintains an undercurrent of humor akin to that of the Princess Bride. For example, an elaborate joke about face cream produced a long chuckle.
The primary weakness of the novel comes from occasional roughness in the prose. Transitions between scenes and characters are often abrupt and could have used more refining. A couple of times the action was a little hard to follow, but things would always smooth out. Wanting to know what happened next kept me from lingering on any minor confusion. I cared about the characters, whose motivations and psychologies were always engaging. The novel ends with an exciting and bittersweet conclusion that will deeply resonate with pet lovers. The Weaving is playful, heartwarming, and pleasant reading that will populate your imagination with characters that feel like dependable friends. I rate it four cat claws and a swishing tail.
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