The relationship between faeries and humans has always been a complicated one. Whether joined by a mutual past, or wholly divergent in their origin, they are regardless fated to share the same space. And while time and distance may have set them apart from each other, their eventual alliance may rest with the actions of a few… or even just two individuals.
The Church of the Wood explores this complicated relationship between peoples, and touches on tragic missteps that prior generations have engaged in. Though that history has impacted everyone, few remain who remember the gravity of such things, and even fewer care to make it their business. Myth, legend, and rumor all serve to put up barriers between faeries and humans, often replacing reality with fear and insurmountable preconceptions.
Ultimately, this book is about individual relationships. Unwitting friendships, leaps of faith, and eventually romance, follow several characters through journeys both personal and collective. The story deftly addresses both the mysteries of ages past as well as the complicated future of Calundra, the starkly idyllic but troubled country in which the stories are set. While intensely personal, the narrative and its well-defined characters cannot exist in a microcosm. An undercurrent of connectivity is maintained throughout the tale.
It would be easy to define The Church of the Wood as a romantic fantasy, and indeed such a description is apt. However, rarely has such a simple concept been so lavishly described, or with such careful detail. The greatest strength of this book is Weber’s ease of narration; confident, expansive, and extremely endearing. Each of the main characters will rapidly gain the support of the reader, and anyone who is even a casual fan of the genre will find them to be captivating. Beyond just the actors involved, the story maintains enough of an air of mystery and magic to keep the reader’s attention throughout.
The only criticism I can levy against it is the pace of the plot. This is a slow story by anyone’s estimation, and it rewards the patient reader. The plot is meandering at times, and as a fan of more action-oriented stories I often found myself waiting for the next significant revelation rather than simply enjoying the journey itself. Though this may not detract from the overall impact, it may be a deterrent to some people who are easily distracted. Additionally, some minor characters are introduced that are given some attention, but not enough to really carry the scene or enhance the central themes.
Despite these minor problems, the book remains a positive experience and I would recommend it to any fan of fantasy, romance, or a combination thereof. It is unarguably a very impressive first novel from Weber and is every bit as good as any commercial offering. I am looking forward to future works from her!