Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe

cover art for Gossamer AxeAs she wrenched her music out of the guitar, therefore, she began to add other themes, other scales and tonalities. The Equinox had arrived, bringing with it the promise of Spring, and she turned to it and its message, embraced it, celebrated its mystery with music from an electric guitar and a Laney stack driven to peak. Shouting out the mystery of the new season, she cast it throughout the club, and its benison enfolded her listeners like broad wings of solace. — Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe

I’ve been working on the Eddi and the Fey War for the Oaks concert t-shirts this week, so it’s fitting that I’m writing this review of another great novel involving the Fey and music. And like Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks novel, this novel richly deserves to be brought back into print, as Bull’s novel was.

I can sum up the novel nicely: Fourteen hundred years ago, Chairiste Ni Cummen and her lover Siudb spent a warm and magical Midsummer night listening unobserved — or so they thought — to the music of the faerie Sidhe, and were noticed and captured by the Sidhe bard, Orfide. Imprisoned for centuries, but made effectively immortal by the power of Orfide’s magical (and possibly cursed by human standards) harp, she escaped from the Sidhe and the musician Orfide, weavers of spells and schemes, into revolutionary France. But the doorway shut too quickly, leaving her lover behind in the endless captivity of the Fey.

Some two hundred years later, Chairiste has taken up teaching harp in Denver. Now, ‘Christa’ discovers the way to her loved one’s freedom — electric music that can break down time itself. So this Celtic musician turns rocker, her harp transforms itself into an electric guitar, and her newly-formed band of female heavy metal warriors, called Gossamer Axe, becomes her most effective weapon.

Gossamer Axe is clearly written by a musician. Indeed, under her stage name of Gael Kathryns, Gael Baudino is a concert harpist who also teach workshops, composes, and regularly writes for the Folk Harp journal. Gossamer Axe was an early work of hers, but while it may appear rather roughly written at first glance, it is still definitely worth the read. The premise may seem bizarre, but it gives Ms. Baudino a superb chance to discuss all sorts of things musical within the context of Celtic magic, druidism, and a good dose of feminist empowerment.

Gael certainly knows the working of a band quite well. Her musical scenes are the equal of those depicting Eddi and The Fey, the band in The War for the Oaks, or the scary scenes of the band named Nazgul in George R. R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag.

This is a great book for fantasy lovers, but it will probably be most appreciated by those with a musical background. A double-headed guitar is her instrument of choice and that deserves a bit of commentary. Double-headed instruments seem to be a motif among both musicians and writers, as can be illustrated by noting that Leif Sorbye of Tempest plays a double-headed mandolin, an instrument that suits Leif’s Viking looks, but looks silly on smaller beings.

Where Gael fails is that unlike The War for the Oaks, where Emma Bull’s then-home of Minneapolis is so completely detailed that I was able to create a tour t-shirt with the actual concert locations Emma used, Gael has almost no feel for her setting of Denver, Colorado. Denver was, alas, no more real to me as a reader than the backdrops and props in a play are. This is odd given that, though she grew up in Los Angeles, she currently resides in Denver. Nor was she terribly good at getting Irish history and music correct. (Hint — the wire harp was introduced to Ireland nearly six hundred years after the time that Christa was plucked out of there by magic.)

Ah, but I’ll forgive her inaccuracies as she tells a damn fine tale of a band that really would be fun to hear. Maybe somewhere right now across the Border, the Nazgul, Eddi and the Fey, and Gossamer Axe are all playing at a festival where humans and elves are just listening to the magic of great music being made.

(Roc, 1990)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. I also do the Birthdays for Mike Glyer’s, the foremost SFF fandom site.

My current audiobook is Alasdair Reynolds’ Machine Vendetta. I’m watching my way though all nine seasons of the Suits law series.

My music listening as always leans heavily towards trad Celtic and Nordic music.

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