Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Tam Lin
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not for me.

I can certainly understand and appreciate its influence on modern literature. I like that it's one of the influences that have made urban fantasy such a popular genre. All on its own, though, I found it lacking.

The story starts with young Janet Carter starting school at her hometown college where her father works. The story doesn't wrap up until her senior year, and, in the meantime, we plod through her classes, meetings with her advisor, the development of a relationship with a boy who isn't the title character, and a number of tedious conversations about classic literature.

Had this been assigned reading in a college literature course, I would've approached it differently, and probably enjoyed it, on that merit. It brings together a lot of literary influences, going all the way back to the Hellenic Greeks. But, as an enjoyable urban fantasy update of the "Tam Lin" legend, it felt too much like homework.

The book spends far too much time on self-congratulatory college kids' aspirations to sound highbrow, and not nearly enough time developing the characters, or the romance that's supposedly central to the plot. I found the ending depressing, rather than uplifting or romantic. I got more of a sense that the characters got together out of a sense of duty than because they cared about one another. The declaration of love, when it comes, feels more like a bank transaction than a scene out of classic literature.

Lest my review sound too scathing, I do appreciate all Pamela Dean does to remain faithful to the original poem, and I respect that she was very much a trailblazer. The style of the book reads like many classical tales, where little is told and much has to be surmised about character motivations or why revelations are important to the plot. Had I been reading this when it was first published, I probably would've had a greater respect for the material. But, as a modern reader, it felt too much like homework, too bogged-down with literary references and devotion to dead white men to tell the story I wanted to hear.

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