Completed 3/19/2017 Reviewed 3/20/2017
How do I describe a book that’s both corny and wondrous at the same time? It’s kind of corny because it’s about an ancient woman living in late 1980s Denver who uses heavy metal music to fight for the release of her lover from a dark, magical place. It’s wondrous for the exact same reason. Christa is a harpist from pre-Christian Ireland. The music she creates is her source of magic. She lost her lover in a land of immortals in the 1700s, controlled by a bard who is a greater harpist than Christa. Now she has discovered that heavy metal just might be the magical weapon she can use against the bard to rescue her lover Judith. So yes, it sounds corny, but I was completely pulled into the plot and characters.
The majority of the book is about Christa discovering heavy metal and her forming her own all-woman heavy metal band. She’s in Denver because she’s been following the portal between our world and the immortal world where her lover is being held captive. She teaches the harp and one of her students invites her to a metal concert. At the concert Christa begins to realize that metal has the same characteristics as her magical harp playing, and she just might be able to use it to save Judith. Having played the harp for over a thousand years, she understands music so well that she picks up electric guitar in a matter of days. First she joins a metal band, but soon realizes that she’ll have to form her own band to make the magic work.
The best part of the book is the forming of the band. Christa pulls together women musicians who have crossed her path, all damaged souls who play terrifically. The characters are well-defined and have interesting back stories. Part of the greatness comes from describing what it’s like to be a woman in a music genre dominated by men. Even once the band has formed and shown how awesome they are, they still have to battle the issues of being a girl band rather than a band made of talented women. In addition, they all must battle their own personal demons that could derail the band, professionally as well as from its purpose of saving Christa’s lover.
This book won the Lambda Literary Award in 1990, and I can see why. It’s a terrific telling of a story that could have just been corny and even soapy. But I found it executed marvelously. I was completely drawn in and even though the ending was pretty predictable, I still found it exciting. I give this book five stars because of this, and because I got emotionally involved with the characters and the outcome. I’ve only given one other five star rating recently. Reading as much as I do now, I find it harder to give five stars, but this book really moved me. And it wasn’t because I paid a premium for this out of print book at a used book store. If anything, it should have added pressure that I normally would have rebelled against, feeling that the book wasn’t worth it. Perhaps it’s because I was in several bands, so I understand some of the experience. Mostly though, I think it’s just a well told story that’s different and exceedingly satisfying.