Elsewhere , by Will Shetterly, is a novel set in the shared world of Bordertown created by Terri Windling for a series of short story anthologies. Bordertown is a city at the Border of Faerie where elves, humans, and everyone in between live together more or less -- sometimes more and sometimes less. It's a place where magic works usually and technology doesn't most of the time -- a place where, if you keep your eyes and ears pointed or not open, you can find a place of your own. Ron Starbuck takes the Elflands Express to Bordertown to look for his brother Tony as well as somewhere he can fit in. The first person he meets is Mickey, an armless woman who is the proprietor of Elsewhere, a used bookstore.
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By Will Shetterly. Elsewhere works almost perfectly. It's a hard-edged vision, sharp as a knife blade, a borderline where punk and funk mix with Blake and Yeats, and Faerie is not as we might expect. Surprising, daring, deeply moving, Elsewhere could only have been written here and now. Steeped in both survival and coming-of-age themes, the story will attract a wide genre readership.
In all the years since, I have been looking for the book to match this statement, and it is clear that this book is Will Shetterly's. I have never known the far away brought so near in any other book. Not for the weak of heart, but a book for the adventurous soul. This is remarkable work. Terri Windling set the stage, then let me bring on my troupe of players. I am eternally grateful. I knew I was in the Nevernever when I saw a wild elf through the train window.
Maybe I said something. Maybe I just stared like a tourist. The armless kid in the seat across from me said, First trip to Bordertown? I tugged up the collar of the too-big jeans jacket that I wore and scrunched down in my seat. Two ravens flew overhead. I saw natural roses in bloom, the color of lips. Through gaps in the trees I could see the red waters of the Mad River.
It is, the armless kid said. When I glanced at her, she added, A big deal. The nature types rarely show themselves near the train. I wanted her to be quiet so I could watch the woods for signs of magic. She shook her head. I laughed. The Elflands Express is a two-car imitation of a nineteenth-century train, only fit for carnivals, tourist traps, and travel between the World and Bordertown.
I mocked the kid and the wild elves at the same time. She lifted a beaded moccasin to point at my wristwatch, an oddly natural gesture. It told the time to the sixtieth of a second, had radio and computer functions, and was guaranteed to work underwater or in a vacuum.
Its face was blank. I shook it. The watch blinked to life, promising that it was a little after midnight and about to rain. The afternoon sun and a cloudless sky disagreed. Magic and science wash up against each other here. I stared at her and back at the watch.
It squawked, Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? I nodded. I unsnapped the watch and held it out. I nodded and flipped the watch out the window. It made a nice arc, glinting in the sunlight against a backdrop of blue sky and green leaves, and called, Say good night, Gracie. I looked out the window again.
The train tracks still followed the Big Bloody. A blue-and-yellow paddle wheeler churned upriver. Someone sat on its deck, dangling bare feet over the wine-dark waters and lazily strumming a guitar. The only music I could hear was made by the train engine.
I smelled wood smoke from the locomotive, dirt and decaying leaves from the forest, and something sweet and decadent from the Mad River itself. Far ahead, a few tall white buildings waited where the slow red river met the sky. I squinted, looking for the Border. The kid followed my gaze. Among them were a few solos like me in scruffy traveling gear, off to the place where magic sometimes works. Shows how much first impressions mean. Across the aisle a tourist looked at me, then made sure her two little darlings were safe beside her.
I slumped back into my seat. As we rode on, I watched the woods and the river and the sky. If there were gryphons in the treetops or unicorns behind the bushes, they disguised themselves as squirrels and bluejays. You get a second chance in Bordertown. You should think about what that means, and what you want. She grinned, glanced at my pack, glanced back at me. With a little shock I realized she must be much older than me, twenty-five or thirty or more.
I wore a gray T-shirt, old fatigue pants, and sneakers that were frayed and paint-spattered from months of odd jobs. The green canvas pack beside me was mine.
She shrugged. I was an ass when I was your age, too. She tapped the toe of her moccasin against my pack, where a flat rectangle strained the canvas. He was this human poet who lived in Ireland, way before Faerie returned. She nodded. When things got really bad and Tony thought no one was listening, he would whisper, Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild With a faery The armless woman laughed. Which might be part of the point of the poem.
More a perpetual student. She nodded at the bulky canvas satchel on the seat beside her. The strap ran across her chest, molding the poncho to her torso. She laughed. Book dealer. Rare and used. I get by. She grinned. A few blocks south of Ho on Mock Avenue. She lifted an eyebrow.
Everyone called her Jiggle Le Toilet. She cut out for the World after a week. A hit. Mickey rocked back and laughed. A palpable hit. I rolled my eyes and looked for any sign of magic in the woods of the Nevernever. She said, Okay, maybe you guessed that. You planning to find a squat? The main thing I remembered were well-thumbed pages about human and elf kids living for free in the abandoned neighborhoods. Mickey said, The best places have all been taken. Not necessarily.
Every community has its rules. Instead, I said, Screw the community. I looked tiny and pimply and geeky in the lenses of her mirrored glasses. Uh, yeah. God, as usual, granted me no miracles. I said, Huh. Besides, I could hear her laughing at me. I had a ticket, old woman.
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Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book. Still, it might have been a five, once. Sadly, is annoying in the process of doing so. I have fond, fond memories of a Bordertown anthology from my adolescence and this sort of snuck in under that cover. I especially liked the interactions between Ron and the people he meets.