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Book Review: Tam Lin

Posted by gck Monday, January 21, 2013

tamlinTam Lin by Pamela Dean

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: People who enjoy magical realism and fairy tale retellings, lovers of Shakespeare and poetry

Back-cover summary:
In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane.

My review:
This month, I’m reading books that other people have recommended to me as their favorites. It is definitely taking me out of my reading comfort zone, but it’s an enjoyable change. Tam Lin is one of those books. Genre and description wise, it isn’t too far from my standard reading, but the writing style did end up being a departure from the norm.

It took me awhile to warm to the author’s writing style. From the description and genre, it seems like it would be a fast read, but it ended up not being the case for me. At over 400 pages, it was a thick book, and I didn’t read through them quickly. It seemed like some things dragged on slowly, but other times, I found myself having to reread passages because I didn’t quite follow where a transition happened. The most common example would be in conversation where suddenly it would mention that someone was furious, but I couldn’t understand from the dialogue when it went from normal conversation to anger. This and other character reactions that I didn’t understand showed some amount of emotional disconnect between me and the author.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being enrolled in an elite liberal arts college and having a group of well-read friends to have sophisticated intellectual conversations with, this could be a great book for you. It’s hard not to be immersed into the setting, and I enjoyed feeling like I was sitting with Janet and her roommates in their dorm room or listening to lectures in English class. The conversations constantly make references to works of Shakespeare, Keats, and more. Enough of the references are clarified so that you won’t be completely lost if you don’t recognize them. However, a reader with absolutely no interest in English literature might find all of this extremely boring or possibly even pretentiously annoying.

I enjoyed the mystical elements of the story, especially the ghost who threw books out of the window, the tradition of the piper, and the horse riders. The action of the fairy tale retelling was a little odd, but I felt that way about the traditional version of the fairy tale, too. Overall, I felt like the fairy tale was a good way to wrap up the story and also helped set the mood for the novel, but the other interactions between the characters were more prominent. This is one of eight in a Fairy Tale Series. I read Snow White and Rose Red as a teen, and now this has me interested to read some of the others.


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