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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Thistle Down - Irene Radford Somehow, against all odds, overcoming my usual lack of stick-to-it-tiveness, this book did not become a DNF. There was a touch of skimming in the last two chapters, but I read it from cover to cover, possibly as a object lesson to myself.

Even though I write the other variant of urban fantasy (ass-kicking heroine solving paranormal crimes and saving the universe), I'm more of a fan of the kind written by the likes of Charles De Lint. Quieter stories where the magic creeps into the edges of ordinary lives.

I was hoping that Thistle Down would be such a story. It isn't. The ingredients, however, are there.

Dusty Carrick works as a curator/historian for the Skene County Historical Society in the little town of Skene Falls, Oregon. When she's not leading tours through the pioneer home, she's hiding in the home's basement, cleaning and cataloging artifacts. Dusty is socially challenged. After a bout of childhood leukemia, her over-controlling mother put Dusty on a all-natural diet, and home schooled her, fearing that germs might bring back the cancer. Yeah, Mom is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs crazy.

The grounds of the Historical Society include the Ten-Acre Woods, home to a colony of pixies. The existence of the pixies is something of a local secret, with local children often befriending the wee folk before eventually growing up and out of such fancies. Because of her cancer, Dusty spent more time with pixies, one in particular, Thistle Down, than other children. So when Police Sargeant Chase Norton calls and asks if she will take responsibility for a strange young woman who calls herself Thistle Down, Dusty agrees.

Thistle Down is an exile from her people, now trapped in a human-looking body, and without her magic. She got booted out of pixie society because she played a prank on her lover's fiancee. (The girl is understandably jealous.)

Besides babysitting pixies-turned-humans, Dusty must organized the Fairy Ball, a fundraiser for the museum, fend off her boss's marriage proposals, and deal with her childhood nemesis, Phelma Jo Nelson. Nelson, formerly trailer trash, now a successful business woman, is nursing an old grudge against Dusty. Her goal this year is to ruin Fairy Ball and log the Ten Acre Woods, including the beloved Patriarch tree.

Dusty, who has a crush on Chase, finds herself enjoying the attention of Phelma Jo's handsome assistant, Haywood. Yeah, her archrival's assistant, wants to date Dusty. That Dusty isn't even the least bit suspicious of his interest, is but one this novel's characterization issues.

All the characters read as though they were developed on the fly, and never benefited from any tightening or internal consistency on revision. (This is one of those books where you can't help wondering what on Earth the author's agent/editor were thinking?) In another example, later in the book, Dusty, who apparently believes in pixies, who is babysitting a human-size pixie, gets lightheaded with shock when she meets another pixie ... as though she just can't believe pixies really exist. Oy.

Often the characters feel like they are talking at, rather than to each other, and I sometimes lost track of who was saying what, even when there were just two speakers. This because dialogue tags are often added at the end of long paragraphs of dialogue, and because everyone speaks in the same bland stilted manner.

The characters' reactions are often odd and in one case, totally ridiculous. Case in point, a scene toward the end where Chase, the policeman, faces off against loggers. Chase has a valid court order to stop the work, and despite that the loggers try to run him over. *Rolls eyes.* Look, these aren't loggers working in the backwoods and Chase isn't a spotted owl-loving tree hugger. The loggers aren't going to assault a policeman over a couple of acres of wood. Not even in this economy.

The book could also benefit from a good copy editing. "A clatter of iron-shod horseshoes...." You don't shoe "horseshoes." It should be "iron-shod hooves..."

It's really a pity that this is such a mess, because the underlying premise has its charm. There's a romance. A lot of potential for character growth (most notably with the antagonist, Phelma Jo). Instead, this reads like a hastily penned first draft.