Or What You Will
From the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author of Among Others, an utterly original novel about how stories are brought forth.He 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 more than a spark of 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 more than any human does. And he's trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he's got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.

Or What You Will Details

TitleOr What You Will
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 7th, 2020
PublisherTor Books
ISBN-139781250308993
Rating
GenreFantasy, Fiction, Writing, Books About Books

Or What You Will Review

  • Jo Walton
    January 1, 1970
    "Of course, all books are easier to read that to describe. This is true even when you’re a character in them, when that’s been your whole life, when you began as the author’s imaginary friend and wound up as narrator, protagonist, and bit part player in her over thirty novels. But I don’t know why we’re talking about you. This is a book about me."That's the narrator's blurb for Or What You Will, and it's about a good a description of it as I can get.The first chapter of this book is extremely fu "Of course, all books are easier to read that to describe. This is true even when you’re a character in them, when that’s been your whole life, when you began as the author’s imaginary friend and wound up as narrator, protagonist, and bit part player in her over thirty novels. But I don’t know why we’re talking about you. This is a book about me."That's the narrator's blurb for Or What You Will, and it's about a good a description of it as I can get.The first chapter of this book is extremely fun to read aloud, which is a genuine plus for me. This book is very meta, indeed its filename was "Meta".
    more
  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    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, especially fantasy books, there’s a lot that you’re going to miss. If you aren’t interested in the craft of writi 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, especially 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 understand 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 love this book.There are two principal characters. One is Sylvia, an aging fantasy writer, acclaimed within the SF/F 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-up-briefly-but-looms-large, even a dragon - he’s been them all.As 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 too.The 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 to).The 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 book.This 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.
    more
  • Ari
    January 1, 1970
    BLOG | Instagram | TwitterThank you NetGalley and Tor Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine. You see, I know her.I've been in all her books.But I've been in her head much, much longer than that. When you read the work of a new author, you're about to step into a new and different world. You have no idea what you're in store for, not matter how interesting the synopsis of the story may seem. I find myself feeling both excited and wary, but with as open a mind as I can keep in a BLOG | Instagram | TwitterThank you NetGalley and Tor Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine. You see, I know her.I've been in all her books.But I've been in her head much, much longer than that. When you read the work of a new author, you're about to step into a new and different world. You have no idea what you're in store for, not matter how interesting the synopsis of the story may seem. I find myself feeling both excited and wary, but with as open a mind as I can keep in all situations (which is rather open, I'm always pleasantly surprised to realize).Before I read Or What You Will, I did not know what metafiction was. It could be that throughout my years as a reader I came across a story that had meta components, but I wasn't aware of it, or didn't look into it further enough to find out. I've always loved that about books, however: you're going to learn something new in each one, about the book or about yourself, even if it's the fact that you've discovered an author whose imagination you now enjoy. And regardless of any other factors, you're going to appreciate the book for that alone. I certainly do.I now know that I'm not a fan of metafiction. It's not my cup of tea and I accept that. Despite this, this book is worth the read. Not only is the writing itself fantastic, but the way that you are drawn into the story happens seamlessly. Yes, you're given a lot of information that is mingled in with the narrative—most of it historical details of Florence, which tie in with the rest of the book—and it can be quite a lot to take in. But as history stands, they're fascinating facts that will just make your life richer for knowing, especially if you're a fan of art and European culture; it's intriguing, and it does help in becoming further immersed.It took me some time to go deep into the novel, but once I did, I did not want to come back up until I'd finished it.Or What You Will won't be for everyone, but there's a special kind of magic that makes it irresistible to read. After all, as a reader, who doesn't want to explore a story about a fictional character coming to life?
    more
  • Celeste
    January 1, 1970
    Actual rating: 3.5 starsI 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 up being my favorite book of 2019. My pulse actually sped up as I read, and I had to stop Actual rating: 3.5 starsI 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 up being my favorite book of 2019. My pulse actually sped up 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 unexpected 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, and 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-sequels to both plays in the pages of this book, and those will make far more sense if you have an idea of what said plays are about and who their characters are. Said sequels 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 more 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 underwent 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 casts and 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 different directions to make heads spin. But the amount of fourth-wall breaking and self commentary came across as self-indulgent instead of endearing. The book was brief, at little more than 300 pages, but it felt exhaustingly labyrinthine. The writing was exquisite and the ideas unique, but I had a hard time making myself pick this little book up. I also found myself disappointed in the ending. While the entire book was building toward a particular outcome, that final scene was so brief as to feel woefully abridged and ultimately unsatisfying. However, the quality of the writing and the social commentary woven into the narrative about the fantasy genre and religion and the world as a whole saved the book for me. I enjoyed having a chance to peer so deeply into the mind of both the author of this book and the author in the book.“There’s no difference between fairy tales and war stories… Pah. All stories start both ways. There’s no difference between once upon a time, and believe me, because I was there and still bear the scars. There are scars in everyone’s stories…”I’m sure Or What You Will shall become a new favorite for many, and I deeply regret that I’m not part of that number. However, I look forward to trying more of Walton’s work, as she is a brilliant wordsmith whose prose I can’t wait to sample again. Even though I didn’t love this particular story, I deeply respect what Walton both attempted and was able to do in the writing of it. Hopefully I’ll find a book or multiple books in her catalogue that will ring as true to me as Sylvia’s books did for her fictitious fanbase in this novel.All quotes above were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.
    more
  • Sherwood Smith
    January 1, 1970
    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 questions 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 compl 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 questions 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 Influence.But 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 being.I 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 unfamiliar with Shakespeare would do well to look at synopses of Twelfth Night and The Tempest..Walton's books are all quite 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, more slowly.
    more
  • Alison
    January 1, 1970
    A beautifully written, wonderfully strange imagining of the links between author & character, and those between the our world and fictional worlds. Plus a little Shakespeare thrown in there for good measure. What’s not to love? A beautifully written, wonderfully strange imagining of the links between author & character, and those between the our world and fictional worlds. Plus a little Shakespeare thrown in there for good measure. What’s not to love?
    more
  • Cassandra
    January 1, 1970
    Big thank you to Netgalley and Macmillian/Tor for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.This is a story that readers will either love desperately or hate and never finish and I imagine Walton knows this and thus the references to Sylvia's one-star reviews. No matter, readers who love Shakespeare, love art and good food, and love ideas will love this book. It's hard not to see this book as a tribute, a love letter, to Walton's readers over the years. It's all there: the dragon from the King's Big thank you to Netgalley and Macmillian/Tor for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.This is a story that readers will either love desperately or hate and never finish and I imagine Walton knows this and thus the references to Sylvia's one-star reviews. No matter, readers who love Shakespeare, love art and good food, and love ideas will love this book. It's hard not to see this book as a tribute, a love letter, to Walton's readers over the years. It's all there: the dragon from the King's Peace books, Ficino and Pico from Thessaly, all of Florence from Lent wrapped up in one big meta-discussion on artistic creation and subcreation.I'm still so gobsmacked by this book that it's hard to review it rationally and writing a synopsis is pointless because the story took me places I never expected to go. But they are wondrous places and I so want them to be real. Illyria, Brunelleschi's walk into canvas, Teatro del Sale, Miranda's house--all were marvels. And the ending, well who else could such a changeable spirit be but the one who carries out his mistress's imaginings and makes them come alive.This is a marvel of a book and especially to be reading it now during the COVID-19 pandemic, it gives me hope that the best of people will prevail and find a way through. I also read this with some sadness as I had to cancel a long-planned trip to Florence this spring due to the pandemic and quarantine. But Walton's story gave me hope I will get there in the end.
    more
  • Steven Halter
    January 1, 1970
    Just finished an ARC of this— fantastic, in every sense.
  • Bookish Selkie
    January 1, 1970
    Or What You Will was one of my first forays into metafiction and I absolutely loved it. Combined with Shakespeare? Incredible. While reading, I felt that I was peeking over Walton’s shoulder, getting a master class on writing, and watching the threads of a story being woven right before my eyes. This is a story filled with succinct observations, fantastic characters, and reflective moments. I do think you will probably get more out of this story if you are familiar with The Tempest, Twelfth Nigh Or What You Will was one of my first forays into metafiction and I absolutely loved it. Combined with Shakespeare? Incredible. While reading, I felt that I was peeking over Walton’s shoulder, getting a master class on writing, and watching the threads of a story being woven right before my eyes. This is a story filled with succinct observations, fantastic characters, and reflective moments. I do think you will probably get more out of this story if you are familiar with The Tempest, Twelfth Night, or have an interest in reading about the craft of storytelling. This isn't a casual novel- it is definitely a commitment, a choice. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it very much was mine. Or What You Will is creative, original, and has a unique story to tell. I’m looking forward to re-reading this book, as it is full of rich details and stunning descriptions. This was the first book I’ve read from Jo Walton, but it won’t be my last. Or What You Will releases on July 7, 2020. Thank you to Jo Walton, Tor Books, and Netgalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
    more
  • Lauren Stoolfire
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.I usually enjoy mortification and books about books, and the summary for this sounded like it could be fantastic. Unfortunately, Or What You Will by John Walton never quite worked out for me. I didn't find myself getting attached to any of the characters or becoming particularly invested in the story either. I will say that of everything I did like the imaginary friend sequences, but I was oddly not at all into the Shakespearean t I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.I usually enjoy mortification and books about books, and the summary for this sounded like it could be fantastic. Unfortunately, Or What You Will by John Walton never quite worked out for me. I didn't find myself getting attached to any of the characters or becoming particularly invested in the story either. I will say that of everything I did like the imaginary friend sequences, but I was oddly not at all into the Shakespearean things at all.
    more
  • Amanda
    January 1, 1970
    I walked into this book a little skeptical of the very meta concept--a writer's character, or muse, is trying to save her from death--but i was so quickly won over by the delicate weave of history and character that I came away absolutely ENAMORED. During reading, at first I thought the book couldn't possibly deliver satisfaction in the paging remaining, then that I could see the possible endings--I was delightfully surprised on both accounts. This book is for writers, this book is for readers, I walked into this book a little skeptical of the very meta concept--a writer's character, or muse, is trying to save her from death--but i was so quickly won over by the delicate weave of history and character that I came away absolutely ENAMORED. During reading, at first I thought the book couldn't possibly deliver satisfaction in the paging remaining, then that I could see the possible endings--I was delightfully surprised on both accounts. This book is for writers, this book is for readers, this book is for lovers of Florence, or of art, or of wondering what makes a soul out of paper and thought. I almost hesitate to call it a novel, because the shape and what Walton is trying to do with the story here happens as much off the page as on it, and is not at all typically shaped for genre. Some readers may not like it for that--do not go into this expecting a straight forward fantasy. Its going to be a book I sit and have thoughts about for a long time, and as a writer and reader, that's the best kind of book.
    more
  • L. Lawson
    January 1, 1970
    eBook provided by NetGalley.If you are a reader of fantasy--and I mean a voracious reader--but also someone who pays attention to the fandom around fantasy literature, Jo Walton's _Or What You Will_ really is a book for you.The book begins with a narrator talking about being stuck in a "bone cave," and, as a reader, I was a bit confused. Who's narrating? Where are they? After two or three chapters, I was situated: the narrator is a muse inside of a fantasy writer's head, and this writer, Sylvia, eBook provided by NetGalley.If you are a reader of fantasy--and I mean a voracious reader--but also someone who pays attention to the fandom around fantasy literature, Jo Walton's _Or What You Will_ really is a book for you.The book begins with a narrator talking about being stuck in a "bone cave," and, as a reader, I was a bit confused. Who's narrating? Where are they? After two or three chapters, I was situated: the narrator is a muse inside of a fantasy writer's head, and this writer, Sylvia, is embarking on her final book--a return to one of her beloved series. Along the way, this narrator, who has performed parts in all of her books, is trying to work his way back in to the final book--for reasons.For very good, very "get you in the feels" reasons.The book is laid out in chapters alternative between the discussions Sylvia and the narrator have and then chapters of the fantasy book Sylvia is writing. Along the way, storylines intermingle satisfyingly, and the reader is treated to meta-commentary about being a fantasy writer.Oh, and all of this is happening in Firenze (Florence, Italy), both in the fantasy novel being written within _Or What You Will_ by Sylvia and within the chapters about Sylvia herself. Walton has clearly spent a lot of time in Firenze (as have I so I can tell). You can smell and taste and see the city on nearly every page of the book--especially the leather market, when Sylvia finds a treasure I wish I myself had.This novel is imbued with some esoteric and more well-known history. In fact, some passages of the book read like a history text--which was a big plus for me but might detract from some readers' enjoyment of Sylvia's story. Again, if you've read A LOT of fantasy literature, this book adds something new to your reading experience in that it builds a somewhat typical fantasy story with the novel-within-the-novel--though it leans heavily on Shakespeare's The Tempest, but then it departs from a typical structure of novels in this genre by exploring a writer's connection to her own work, with the characters she's built, with her own mortality, etc. There are simply layers upon layers in this novel that, in someway, transcend the genre and in other ways elevate it.This is not a book for every lover of fantasy literature. Because it is not straightforward nor reliant on well-worn plots, it takes a while to get engaged with the story Walton is trying to tell. But once you commit, and once the story opens up to the point where you, as the reader, really understand what is going on, this novel exposes its richness.I've always been a fan of Walton's, but have understood that her works, while beautiful, are not beautiful to everyone. If you're that type of reader I mentioned earlier, give this novel a chapter or two to open up to you. I think you'll be happy you did.
    more
  • S!
    January 1, 1970
    thank you so much to netgalley, the publisher and the author for this book!! this is my first time reading and reviewing an ARC so i feel like this is a special moment for me.how do you review a book that anticipates you as a reader? this book is a lot of things. it's about creating art and the legacy/immortality/impact of those creations. it's about the conversation art has been engaged in for millennia. it's about italian history and art. it's about Shakespeare (twelfth night and the tempest, thank you so much to netgalley, the publisher and the author for this book!! this is my first time reading and reviewing an ARC so i feel like this is a special moment for me.how do you review a book that anticipates you as a reader? this book is a lot of things. it's about creating art and the legacy/immortality/impact of those creations. it's about the conversation art has been engaged in for millennia. it's about italian history and art. it's about Shakespeare (twelfth night and the tempest, both of which i was not familiar with, so there was a lot of delighted googling involved). it's about grief, it's about childhood trauma, it's about abuse. it's about about facing your own mortality and coping with what your life has amounted to. it's about magic and myths. it's about fantasies, others and our own. it's a story within a story within a story (within a story?). it's also a commentary on the entire fantasy genre and its authors. it gets really meta in some places, so meta that there's a mention of our author character, sylvia, sitting down to read goodreads reviews. that made me laugh!you can see what i mean when i say that this book is a lot. i don't want to imply that this book is dense or hard to follow, because that's not it. it's more like there are a lot of elements at play and it's important to pay attention. it's important to realize that this isn't a book to just fly through mindlessly, because that's not how it's been crafted. i get that. at the same time, i just couldn't help but feeling that there was a lot flying over my head and, despite my best efforts, there were some instances were i was lost or left too cold by what was going on. this happened most notably in the illyria chapters, which were still very cool. the book shines for me in the chapters with the narrator (this is how i referred to the character that lives in sylvia's head and has been her life-long companion. he's like her mental daemon) and sylvia having their back and forth, the narrator commenting on sylvia's life and her writing, working to infiltrate the story, working so hard to save himself and save sylvia. these were voices that i really enjoyed listening to, because in those sections is where the most interesting commentary and discussions appear. there's even a playfulness. i'd be asking myself questions about something and then, out of the blue, there would be the narrator directly addressing things, as if anticipating my questions! i really liked that. what i mean to say, this is where the most meta gets meta'd, but also this are the parts that felt the most personal, since we get to know sylvia's life story piece by piece, and there are some deeply sad pieces. this is where i felt close to the book. also, okay, not to get super Psych Student TM on this, but i couldn't help but see sylvia/narrator as an analysis of a person's mental health and their coping mechanisms. perhaps i didn't feel so close to the illyria/thalia chapters because that's just not my type of fantasy? i'm still trying to figure that out. and, yes, i know that even now i'm doing this book a disservice by dividing it up as the "sylvia/narrator parts" and the "illyria/thalia parts", since it all bleeds into each other. there's no neatly dividing them. to conclude: even though this didn't end up completely working for me, this is a book worth reading and a book worth book re-visiting. if this sounds interesting to you, i really hope you feel inclined to pick it up when it comes out!!! this book has so much to give and i think if you manage to catch its gifts, it'll end up being a really special one for you. once again, thank you to netgalley, the publisher and, of course, jo walton for this book.
    more
  • Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for the ARC! This book will be published on July 7 2020.As soon as I finished Tooth and Claw earlier this month, I knew I had to read everything else that Jo Walton has written. And then the opportunity to read Or What You Will fell into my lap. You can imagine my delight! What I liked about Tooth and Claw is that it was an entirely unique reading experience. The same can be said for Or What You Will and to an even greater degree. I have never, ever read a Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for the ARC! This book will be published on July 7 2020.As soon as I finished Tooth and Claw earlier this month, I knew I had to read everything else that Jo Walton has written. And then the opportunity to read Or What You Will fell into my lap. You can imagine my delight! What I liked about Tooth and Claw is that it was an entirely unique reading experience. The same can be said for Or What You Will and to an even greater degree. I have never, ever read a book like this before. I say that as the highest form of praise. Walton is an absolute genius storyteller; everything from her worldbuilding to her character development is amazing. And her writing itself is divine.This book is metafiction, which could be a turn off for many readers. It’s always been rather hit or miss for me. But this is the best example of it I have ever encountered. It never felt confusing, overdone, or pretentious. The story is told by an unnamed Narrator living in the mind of author Sylvia Harrison. He is her childhood imaginary friend, her muse, and a character in all of her books. He plans to use her next–and possibly final–book as a way for the two of them to live forever.We get two interwoven stories within this book. First is Sylvia’s life story: we learn about her childhood, her two marriages, and her time spent in Florence. The second is the story she is writing; it is a fantasy novel set in a re-imagined Florence called Illyria that borrows characters from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Tempest. Sometimes when there are two stories like this, it can be easy to become invested in one but not the other. I didn’t find that to be the case here; I found both equally fascinating. I loved seeing the worldbuilding and magic in Illyria, but I also enjoyed learning about Sylvia and her relationship with the Narrator. And Walton weaves them together beautifully!Overall, this is a gorgeous book that is written as a love letter to reading, writing, Florence, Shakespeare, and the Renaissance. If you’re a fan of one or more of those, definitely check this book out!
    more
  • Alisa
    January 1, 1970
    This is a tough book to review because ultimately it ended up not being for me. I definitely think that Or What You Will has a unique idea at its core that would be hard for a lot of authors to pull off,and I do think that Jo Walton nailed it. What it would come down to is whether or not you will enjoy the experience of reading it and for me the answer was no,unfortunately. We go between two stories:the one in the real world where we follow the author Sylvia and her muse,the unnamed narrator, an This is a tough book to review because ultimately it ended up not being for me. I definitely think that Or What You Will has a unique idea at its core that would be hard for a lot of authors to pull off,and I do think that Jo Walton nailed it. What it would come down to is whether or not you will enjoy the experience of reading it and for me the answer was no,unfortunately. We go between two stories:the one in the real world where we follow the author Sylvia and her muse,the unnamed narrator, and the one in world from Sylvia's earlier works, Ilyria,where immortality is possible and where the characters from Shakespeare's The Tempest and The Twelve Night continue to live beyond their plays. The Tempest is my favorite play and I was hoping that chapters from Ilyria would be interesting to read about. But it wasn't so much about Shakespeare as it was about the history of Florence and its artists. And I mean a lot of history. And so the chapters that I thought would be the most interesting ended up being the most boring ones. The chapters from the real world are a character study. In order for Sylvia and the narrator to become characters in Ilyria we as readers need to know every little detail about them, especially the secrets and fears. Some of it was really interesting, especially the relationship between the author and her muse, but for the most part it also did not spark any joy from reading this book. Some stories are for you and some are not. This was simply not for me,even though I realize all the good things in it.Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
    more
  • Mel
    January 1, 1970
    **I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.**I was going to make a dumb joke - something about how I've only gotten to the forty-sixth page, and is it worth it to continue?? - but man, I loved this book too damn much to make that joke (completely). It charmed the pants off me almost from the jump: that first act of the book was, in my opinion, such a gorgeous ode to reading and writing and creativity that it made me tear up at points. And if I have some quibbles with the later parts of the **I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.**I was going to make a dumb joke - something about how I've only gotten to the forty-sixth page, and is it worth it to continue?? - but man, I loved this book too damn much to make that joke (completely). It charmed the pants off me almost from the jump: that first act of the book was, in my opinion, such a gorgeous ode to reading and writing and creativity that it made me tear up at points. And if I have some quibbles with the later parts of the book (basically that I was so in love with Sylvia and the narrator that I would've rather spent more time with them in Metaland (or Florence!) than listening to a few back and forth conversations in Thalia) it's easy to overlook them when I think about how warm this book made me feel. There's a lot of playfulness here, as well as a quality to the writing that I can really only describe as comforting. Even when the book goes into darker places there's this sense of a hand holding yours, guiding you through. Walton at her best - and make no mistake this is Walton at her best - is always somehow able to bring this glowing tenor to even the most minute, everyday of details. And because this is a book that brims over with such details it made it that much more of a pleasure to read. Every reader's reader would enjoy this, I think. And if you're already a Walton fan your enjoyment is probably already a given. As for me, I think this stands as one of my absolute favorite of her books, and I'll definitely be getting my own copy when it's published.
    more
  • Debra
    January 1, 1970
    I have spent so much time highlighting portions of this book because it is so beautifully written."Or What You Will" is unapologetically meta. I loved reading parts of it to my husband out loud- in fact, I maaaaaay have woken up in the middle of the night, grabbed the book and woken my husband to listen to me read it to him. He did a great job pretending to be interested in it before going to sleep. ;) This is a book that is best read slowly in order to enjoy it. There are many historical storie I have spent so much time highlighting portions of this book because it is so beautifully written."Or What You Will" is unapologetically meta. I loved reading parts of it to my husband out loud- in fact, I maaaaaay have woken up in the middle of the night, grabbed the book and woken my husband to listen to me read it to him. He did a great job pretending to be interested in it before going to sleep. ;) This is a book that is best read slowly in order to enjoy it. There are many historical stories, historical references, and an understanding that the reader has some Shakespearean background. While you don't have to have read "The Tempest" or "Twelfth Night" to enjoy this book, knowing them will help understand more of the references that Walton makes.This is my second experience reading a book by Jo Walton- I read "Tooth and Claw" and fell in love with it. "Or What you Will" has a completely different feel, but Jo Walton has a poetic way with words in both of her stories I've read. It makes me want to immediately read more of her works.This is not a book that everyone will enjoy. I (obviously) loved it. If you read a sample of this book and enjoy it, most of the book reads the same way and you will likely love it too. The ending was what the author was building up to the whole time, so it was expected and predictable- but in a good way. Thank you Netgalley and Tor Books for an advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This was the kind of feel-good, one shot fantasy that I needed in my life!
    more
  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    Advance copy provided by NetGalley. This has got to be the strangest, most original thing I’ve read so far this year, and I loved it. It’s kind of a mash-up of Twelfth Night and The Tempest, with some art history thrown in, all set in Florence, real and imagined, in different centuries. My unfamiliarity with most of that list did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel, but I did come out of it hoping to read and see The Tempest performed some day. I wouldn’t turn down a future trip to Italy Advance copy provided by NetGalley. This has got to be the strangest, most original thing I’ve read so far this year, and I loved it. It’s kind of a mash-up of Twelfth Night and The Tempest, with some art history thrown in, all set in Florence, real and imagined, in different centuries. My unfamiliarity with most of that list did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel, but I did come out of it hoping to read and see The Tempest performed some day. I wouldn’t turn down a future trip to Italy either while we’re at it. The author’s love for Florence practically sings from the page. There was a lot going on here, many layers to the story. I was constantly being startled into switching gears to follow what was happening, but the writing was so good that it was less being startled than being pleasantly surprised as the author pulled me along the thought processes of the characters—one, a fantasy author, and one, her creation. The narration is done mostly by the latter, who is the essence of many of the author Sylvia’s characters. He is self-aware, and his wish to exist outside of the “bone cave” of Sylvia’s mind drives the narrative, which drifts back and forth between past and present, fantasy and reality. It was beautifully done, and I can’t wait to start making people read it when it comes out this summer.
    more
  • Kaora
    January 1, 1970
    I have never read this author before, so this is my first experience with her although I have heard so much about her that I've been wanting to try her for a while. This book immediately sucked me in, the writing between Sylvia and her character is lovely, and the author is truly gifted. In a short amount of time I fell in love with the character and Sylvia, the sign of a good writer. Then we started to get more into the Illyria side of things and I found it more of a struggle to get through. I I have never read this author before, so this is my first experience with her although I have heard so much about her that I've been wanting to try her for a while. This book immediately sucked me in, the writing between Sylvia and her character is lovely, and the author is truly gifted. In a short amount of time I fell in love with the character and Sylvia, the sign of a good writer. Then we started to get more into the Illyria side of things and I found it more of a struggle to get through. I didn't enjoy that side of the story as much, although I know why it was necessary, those chapters just dragged.I think overall the book is brilliant, and a powerful love story to books. It kept me thinking about it for a while after I closed it, but I just wish I could have spent more time with Sylvia and a little less in Illyria.I am definitely intrigued by this author and will read more.
    more
  • Diana
    January 1, 1970
    What a wonderfully impossible book to review in any traditional sense! I received an advance copy from the author, a very kind gesture, and I'm looking forward to talking this book up to library patrons and reader friends alike when it launches in July. Whenever a new Walton book appears I have to reconfigure my favorites settings, as it were; where does the new one fit into the grand scheme of her catalogue, and how deeply do I feel it was written just for me? In this case, Or What You Will fee What a wonderfully impossible book to review in any traditional sense! I received an advance copy from the author, a very kind gesture, and I'm looking forward to talking this book up to library patrons and reader friends alike when it launches in July. Whenever a new Walton book appears I have to reconfigure my favorites settings, as it were; where does the new one fit into the grand scheme of her catalogue, and how deeply do I feel it was written just for me? In this case, Or What You Will feels like a love letter: to Florence and its art and most especially its food, to the notion of many lives lived in one lifetime, to some of the less obvious corners of the fantasy canon, to Shakespeare (and my favorite of his plays, The Tempest), to unusual families and unorthodox friendships, and most of all to readers.
    more
  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    A very enjoyable book about the relationship between a creator and creations — and between the creator's life and the worlds they create.Sometimes it lapsed into odd digressions, but most of them paid off. Just make sure you're familiar with a couple Shakespeare plays before you read: Twelfth Night and The Tempest, and perhaps Much Ado about Nothing.
    more
  • Galen Strickland
    January 1, 1970
    5 stars is insufficient. Infinite stars for the best book I've read this year. I'm sure I won't be able to do it justice in a review, but I will make the attempt. Tomorrow though. Tonight I think I'll dream of Firenze.After posting the above I decided I'd modify it to say this is in contention for my favorite of the year. The two other possibles are quite different. I won't say I did it justice, so you don't need to click the link below. Just go pre-order.http://templetongate.net/or-what-you-... 5 stars is insufficient. Infinite stars for the best book I've read this year. I'm sure I won't be able to do it justice in a review, but I will make the attempt. Tomorrow though. Tonight I think I'll dream of Firenze.After posting the above I decided I'd modify it to say this is in contention for my favorite of the year. The two other possibles are quite different. I won't say I did it justice, so you don't need to click the link below. Just go pre-order.http://templetongate.net/or-what-you-...
    more
  • Roxana
    January 1, 1970
    Jo Walton's newest novel, Or What You Will, is inventive, original, fantastical in every sense of the word, richly referential, and a fascinating read from start to finish. It tells the story of a story, threading together the biography of award-winning fantasy novelist Sylvia Harrison, facing her own mortality and what she will leave behind, and Sylvia's work in progress, a Shakespeare-influenced fantasy set in an Italian Renaissance world in which she last wrote decades earlier. Both stories w Jo Walton's newest novel, Or What You Will, is inventive, original, fantastical in every sense of the word, richly referential, and a fascinating read from start to finish. It tells the story of a story, threading together the biography of award-winning fantasy novelist Sylvia Harrison, facing her own mortality and what she will leave behind, and Sylvia's work in progress, a Shakespeare-influenced fantasy set in an Italian Renaissance world in which she last wrote decades earlier. Both stories weave in and out of one another through the voice of an unnamed impish narrator, Sylvia's imaginary friend and muse. This muse is facing his own mortality along with Sylvia's, since, if someone dies, what happens to the characters trapped inside their minds? Unlike Sylvia, though, our narrator has a plan to avoid mortality altogether. Walton's splendidly metafictional work takes the architecture of a novel and opens it up for everyone to see. Everything that inspires a character or plot twist or detail of setting, every piece of research that goes into crafting a pseudo-historical fantasy world - it's all laid bare before the reader, with the fantasy novel a translucent film on top of the suddenly visible bones of reality, research, history both personal and global, of literary tropes and personal biases, of all the pieces of reality that feed into even - perhaps especially - the most fantastical of stories.Late into the book, Walton, via her nameless narrator, describes a pair of portraits which feature cartoons on the reverse side of the canvas. The narrator remarks on the museum’s new display for them, which reveals those reversals, saying, “It’s strange and delightful to see a picture you have seen a thousand times, and suddenly be able to see the secret hidden behind it.”This is the spirit of Or What You Will: the strange and delightful magic of reading a fantasy book, a story with all the story tropes and character archetypes and world-building conventions so familiar to fantasy readers, and suddenly have it unfold into a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the author’s inner workings, the wealth of research that informs every tiny reference or choice, the realities that inspire the fantasies. Yet Or What You Will is not just a documentary on how a fantasy novelist writes her books, just as the drawings on the portraits’ flip sides are not merely a sketch for the better-known front. It weaves the overt contextualization and exposed structure of real history and “real” author biography in and out of the fantastical, but typical enough for easy recognition, story of dukes and wizards and portal crossings from one world to another. Each is enhanced by the other, the suddenly revealed secret side casting the better-known front in a new, starker, light, and the carefully crafted fantasy rendering what might be the dull history of a city’s paving stones and wall repairs and a bleak personal biography of abuse into a copper-bright piece of magic. The thread tying these two worlds together, the canvas between them, is the narrative voice, Sylvia’s imaginary friend and muse, the frequently recurring character - her nameless messenger of the gods. His (to arbitrarily select a gender) presence is constant, as he is the narrator, but occasionally forgotten, when the reader is lulled back into the usual feeling of reading a book, passively offered by a non-personalized provider of words. Then he re-emerges, to remind us that he’s always been there - after all, the story is being told, so someone is telling it. When the text directs the reader to “Imagine spending a day there...” that imperative comes from someone. The judgment of “All Italian ingredients are better than ingredients anywhere else,“ the artistic appraisal of a well-described sunset or scoop of gelato, are not somehow objective or universal - there is a voice, and therefore a consciousness, behind it all. This isn’t a new twist Walton came up with for Or What You Will - this is how novels, written in this common narrative voice, work, whether we take that narrative voice for the author, some god or providence in the characters’ world that controls their fates, or this muse of fire, a Greek chorus relating and commenting on the action, but no less present and capable of agency and independent thought for all that. It’s an approach that I’ve seen more often done in theatre, which is in some ways its natural home (perhaps one reason why the fantasy world in Harrison’s story leans so much on Shakespeare’s oeuvre) and somewhat less frequently in literature, but for a book that so relishes its referential nature, let’s have a few references: Or What You Will is reminiscent of Calvino, of Oyeyemi, of Stoppard and Sondheim (sorry, back to theatre), of Edward Eager in his enthusiastic in-text gratitude toward E. Nesbit, and of every classic fantasy writer you can think of who took some real-world culture or piece of history for their inspiration and spun a yarn that alleges to be fantastical but is inextricably tangled up in all their own real biases and egoism. (For the wry comment on vaguely drawn “exotic” fantasy cultures that smash thousands of years and many disparate cultures into a sketchy realm of magic carpets and sand, this Iranian American reader is grateful.) And Walton knows whereof she writes, since she's as much the highly awarded, famous-in-a-certain-circle fantasy novelist as her on-page surrogate, Sylvia. Yet Walton is also marvelous at writing reality like it’s fantasy - the unbelievably delicious “wish fulfillment narrative” of Teatro del Sale’s food and function, the world-building offered in real historical details of cities both Italian and Canadian, the escape of a portal fantasy in Sylvia’s move from abuse in Montreal to self-actualisation in Florence. Sometimes reality is fantastic. Sometimes fantasy is based on reality. Maybe, sometimes, through stories, through fantasies, we can leave Plato’s cave and emerge into a world where if a thing is perfect, “they have it there, and they always have,” a world where death comes as a chosen sacrifice, not an arbitrary horror. Where time stands still and perfection persists. Where to exist in a story is to exist forever, read and reread and immortal on the page.*Thank you to NetGalley & Tor Books for this advance review copy. All quotes in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.*
    more
  • Bethany
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsThis review is based on an ARC ebook received for free from NetGalley. I am not being paid to review this book and what I write here is my own opinion. My rating scale is below.reviewLet me start by saying that I do not feel equal to reviewing this book. Jo Walton is a significantly better writer than I am a reviewer. I am very tempted to write simply, “Read this. Find out for yourself how you like it. Even if you don’t like it, reading it will have been worth your time if you are someo 4.5 starsThis review is based on an ARC ebook received for free from NetGalley. I am not being paid to review this book and what I write here is my own opinion. My rating scale is below.reviewLet me start by saying that I do not feel equal to reviewing this book. Jo Walton is a significantly better writer than I am a reviewer. I am very tempted to write simply, “Read this. Find out for yourself how you like it. Even if you don’t like it, reading it will have been worth your time if you are someone who likes books and reading.” But that would not be a helpful review. I’m not sure I can write a helpful review. See my opening words. But I’ll try.The book’s narrator is an oft-used figment of a writer’s imagination that the writer is deliberately choosing not to use in her next work because she fears he has been over-used. Walton covers a great deal of the history of Italy, but also assumes a certain level of knowledge on the part of the reader, or at least a certain ability to investigate for oneself those things which were not already known. Somehow this does not feel like being left in the dark when Walton does it, as being encouraged to turn on a light. I really don’t know how she manages that, but I’m impressed. It also incorporates a great many Shakespearean characters, as part of the author character’s oeuvre.Walton herself describes this as a playful fantasy novel about death and subcreation. I must say, I find “subcreation” a superior term to describe writing about the underpinnings of writing than “metafiction.” Naturally, it is one Tolkien utilized for the action or process of creating a fully realized and internally consistent imaginary (or secondary) world. But there are nuances (always, with both Walton and Tolkien!), and the conceit of having a character be aware of their status as an oft-used figment of a writer’s imagination, addressing a reader directly and discussing books and literature and their own role in that world is undoubtedly metafiction, just as much as it is subcreation.The death Walton alludes to in her Thanks and Notes is present throughout the tale, both in the world of the narrator and his author as well as in the world they are creating as they tell a final story together. In the author’s world death is discussed in the events we are all familiar with because it is the death we all know, but in her creation death is quite a different thing, and even the death of a character (not the narrator) who was never intended to be important, becomes a significant event in the tale, which quickly grows convoluted, spanning worlds and eras, wavering between fantasy and reality.Although this is not a long book, it is not a quick read. Walton draws her readers in with snippets of story, or history, or thoughts on the nature of books and those who love them, but it is no simple thing, as a reader, to switch quickly between these different things, nor to breeze through reading them. Indeed, to do so would be a disservice to Walton’s text, which even at its most academic still manages to evoke the Portuguese saudade for the world the reader has been invited to glimpse but cannot truly occupy. Many of Walton’s works, like those of Guy Gavriel Kay, produce this feeling in me. It is a mark of her incredible talent as a writer.Read this book. It is worth it.rating scale1 star - I was barely able to finish it. I didn't like it.2 stars - It was okay. I didn't dislike it.3 stars - It was interesting. I liked it.4 stars - It was excellent. I really liked it.5 stars - It was extraordinary. I really hope the author wrote more things.
    more
  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC.What happens to the worlds and characters created by an author when that author dies? Sylvia is an experienced sci-fi/fantasy novelist, quite well known and active in the SF/F community. The other main character is the unnamed narrator who lives in her head and has served as her muse for much of Sylvia's life, acting as characters in her books. Sylvia has cancer, and the narrator is deeply concerned. After all, if Sylvia dies, he dies too. As s Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC.What happens to the worlds and characters created by an author when that author dies? Sylvia is an experienced sci-fi/fantasy novelist, quite well known and active in the SF/F community. The other main character is the unnamed narrator who lives in her head and has served as her muse for much of Sylvia's life, acting as characters in her books. Sylvia has cancer, and the narrator is deeply concerned. After all, if Sylvia dies, he dies too. As she returns to the fantasy world she created once ago, inspired by Renaissance Italy, the narrator worms into it, hoping to transport both himself and Sylvia there. This is a sweet ode about books and stories and imagined worlds and Italy. Because this is a book about stories, it reminded me a lot of Walton's Among Others, but it has a very different feel. It goes very, very meta with two main settings: the present day where Sylvia is trying to write a book, and the book that Sylvia is writing, which is set in a version of Shakespeare's Illyria. The book is also a gem with many hidden gems. The title is one: it's taken directly from the full name of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. How much you'll discover depends on how familiar you are with sci-fi/fantasy, Twelfth Night and The Tempest, and the writings of Pico della Mirandola (namely Oration on the Dignity of Man), but these aren't required. I haven't read Pico for 15 years, hardly remember it, and did fine (though this book is making a reread sound a treat). Walton's books always take me in unexpected directions even when I read the book copy. This is another one that surprised me pleasantly. It has a plot arc, but large chunks of it have a very slice-of-life feel and others have more of a multi-causal network, which may be frustrating for readers who expect something else. I tried to enjoy this like a cup of gelato—savoring every bite. If I had to complain, there are too many characters here with whom I wanted more time. I desperately wanted to see more of the complex relationship among Orsino, Olivia, Viola, and Sebastian. I wanted more time with Tish and Dolly. I'd have loved to see more of Miranda and Caliban. But maybe it also says something about imagined worlds and stories when we don't get enough time with these characters.
    more
  • Heather Jones
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to Tor for giving me a free digital galley of 'Or What You Will' in exchange for feedback.I... have no idea how to write a review of this book. It isn't like anything I've read before, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. So here are a few of my disorganized thoughts.Is it my imagination, or is every book Jo Walton writes stranger than the one before? This book folds in on itself so many times it's practically origami. If she writes another book I'll be cautious about opening it, Thank you to Tor for giving me a free digital galley of 'Or What You Will' in exchange for feedback.I... have no idea how to write a review of this book. It isn't like anything I've read before, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. So here are a few of my disorganized thoughts.Is it my imagination, or is every book Jo Walton writes stranger than the one before? This book folds in on itself so many times it's practically origami. If she writes another book I'll be cautious about opening it, because it's probably going to be an empty book cover opening onto a gateway to an enchanted library full of gods or something. Jo Walton reads voraciously, and she writes for an audience who reads the way she does. If you haven't read "The Tempest," "Twelfth Night," some history of the Italian Renaissance, and a significant amount of science fiction and fantasy, I'm not sure that you'll be able to follow this book - or at least, you'll lose a lot of layers.I may also have lost some layers. I read voraciously, but Walton and I have only partially overlapping interests.It's a little like 'Among Others,' and also completely different.Seriously, you could build a PhD program simply on understanding all the references in this book. At least one. Make a list of the books used to build this one, and you're looking at a decade of reading. A hard decade of reading.Was this a novel? A reflection on the writing life? A fictionalized time-traveling autobiography? An alternate history? I don't even know.The final sentences made me grin, though I should have seen them coming.
    more
  • Hannah Krueger
    January 1, 1970
    This is so unbelievably my kind of meta and retelling that I’m having difficulty finding words for it, and how much I love what Walton has done here. Telling you what this is technically a retelling of is a big enough spoiler that I won’t say it, but the bricks of it are laid early on. This feels like a book I’m probably going to end up going back to again, just to marvel at how it all comes together. And centering the story on the author (going to use her name to avoid confusion, Sylvia)’s muse This is so unbelievably my kind of meta and retelling that I’m having difficulty finding words for it, and how much I love what Walton has done here. Telling you what this is technically a retelling of is a big enough spoiler that I won’t say it, but the bricks of it are laid early on. This feels like a book I’m probably going to end up going back to again, just to marvel at how it all comes together. And centering the story on the author (going to use her name to avoid confusion, Sylvia)’s muse and co-conspirator makes the telling of the story to ensure she won’t die, and the telling of the author’s story herself that much more intriguing. Yes, there is a book in a book. Yes, our narrator has no name. Yes, there is gratuitous Shakespeare. But the way that ideas Sylvia had at the beginning of her writing career are interrogated and eventually change in the world she’s made feels like Walton being open about her own growth as a writer. And the way the book in a book unfolds in parallel to us learning Sylvia’s story is extremely well done and highlights things about Sylvia herself. The love for Florence shines through brilliantly too. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I started this, but this feels like a masterwork in the best way. Get this when it comes out.
    more
  • Beth
    January 1, 1970
    My thanks to Netgalley for sending me this book written by one of my beloved authors.I know just how unconventional Walton is.The narrator is the 'subject' within the thirty books author Sylvia has written.The opening is extravagant, lush and beautiful. 'He', Sylvia's muse says, "she is the poet and I am trapped in her head". "I [still] want her to make a world of me, for me to be seen whole, not as much of myself as will fit, as an aspect she has shaped for me." Walton teases, teases, then teas My thanks to Netgalley for sending me this book written by one of my beloved authors.I know just how unconventional Walton is.The narrator is the 'subject' within the thirty books author Sylvia has written.The opening is extravagant, lush and beautiful. 'He', Sylvia's muse says, "she is the poet and I am trapped in her head". "I [still] want her to make a world of me, for me to be seen whole, not as much of myself as will fit, as an aspect she has shaped for me." Walton teases, teases, then teases us.Sylvia, though, is now seriously ill. There is the question of mortality. I wonder if this book is in part autobiographical. For me personally, this book went off on too many tangents. I have read too little Shakepeare. Several references jarred and I took issue with. I lost patience and stopped reading this novel one-third of the way through it. I think Walton might agree with me, this one is wildly pretentious. I did not care for her...'meta-ness'.Note: I have read and loved her other novels: Among Others, The Just City, Farthing, The Philosopher Kings. I did not rate this one.
    more
  • Bex Kachman
    January 1, 1970
    I was sent a copy of this book by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!This book is not what you think it is. Beginning with a strange stream-of-consciousness spiel from a self-proclaimed unreliable narrator/imaginary friend and transitioning into a strange fantasy world and back, Or What You Will takes our narrow definition of fantasy literature and speculative fiction and pulls on it until it twists. Perfect for a rainy day (or a day in quarantine). I highly recommend it.
    more
  • Roger Hyttinen
    January 1, 1970
    What a clever, unusual book this is!  It’s kind of a “book within a book” and is one of the most interesting experimental books I’ve read. I have to admit that the initial ancient Celtic-style stream of consciousness by the book’s narrator at the beginning took a bit of getting used to as I desperately struggled to figure what was going on.  But once I caught on (about 10% of the way in) that our narrator is sort of a self-aware Muse with a distinct personality inside of Sylvia’s head, I relaxed What a clever, unusual book this is!  It’s kind of a “book within a book” and is one of the most interesting experimental books I’ve read. I have to admit that the initial ancient Celtic-style stream of consciousness by the book’s narrator at the beginning took a bit of getting used to as I desperately struggled to figure what was going on.  But once I caught on (about 10% of the way in) that our narrator is sort of a self-aware Muse with a distinct personality inside of Sylvia’s head, I relaxed into what turned out to be quite an enjoyable journey.  The narrative alternates between the discussions between Sylvia, an aging fantasy writer who may or may not be dying, and her muse, the nameless narrator.  We also follow along with the latest fantasy novel that Sylvia is writing - a fusion between Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Twelfth Night that takes place in Ilyria, one of the worlds that Sylvia wrote about in her earlier books.  It is in Ilyria where we meet several Shakespearean characters, and we learn that it’s also a place where immortality is possible. It actually took me a moment to realize that the title of this book comes from the original title of The Twelfth Night (The Twelfth Night, Or What You Will).   So the narrator/Sylvia’s Muse is trying to convince her to go to Ilyria before she dies so they can continue to be immortal together, and in doing so, he steers her new story in that direction.  What’s interesting here is that in Sylvia’s chapters, we learn about her challenging and painful past and how our narrator fits into it all.  There’s a lot of different moving parts and layers to this novel, and I found it so much fun to be carried along with them. I will say that this isn’t the sort of story you can sit back with your feet up and mindlessly sail through; it requires careful attention and the ability to quickly switch gears even mid-chapter. That’s not to say that the story is difficult to follow, because it’s not — as long as you don’t let your attention waver too much. It might also be helpful for the reader to be a bit familiar with the storyline of The Twelfth Night and The Tempest plays, as doing so could increase your enjoyment of the story.  There are a plethora of themes and subplots in this book.  It’s about art, creation, immortality, mortality, Italian history, magic, myths, and Shakespeare, but it’s also about child abuse, emotional trauma, grief, and spousal abuse, and all of it comes together cohesively in the narrative.  I really enjoyed all the ideas in this story and how it all went in so many exciting and fascinating directions. All in all, I loved this magical gem of a book about a writer’s life, and the world and characters that she created.  I feel Shakespeare enthusiasts would especially enjoy this book though prior Shakespeare knowledge is not necessary — just helpful.  Though I’m not always a tremendous fan of speculative fiction, I thought this book was brilliant, and I’m so glad it came to my attention.  I’d definitely read more by this author. A huge thank you to Netgalley and MacMillian-Tor/Forge for providing me with a review copy of this book.
    more
Write a review