Emma Bull, Finder -- A Novel of the Borderland (Tor, 1994)

So why am I reviewing a fantasy novel written nearly fifteen years ago? Is it because it's personally autographed to me? Or is it because it is one of the finest novels ever written? Both I'd say. And I noticed while checking some links on Green Man that we've failed in our duty to do a full review of this novel. Oh, we did mention it all the briefly in looking at the entire Bordertown series as reviewed by Michael M. Jones here:

Finder is Emma Bull's solo novel, and it picks up on her characters of Tick-Tick (an elf) and Orient (a human with the ability to find anyone, or anything . . . hence the name). When a cop named Sunny Rico hires Orient to find a killer, it draws them all into a web of drugs, conspiracy, and desperate survival. A plague that affects only Elvish-blooded people threatens the life of Tick-Tick, and it's a race against time to pull the threads together and save the day. But not everyone will walk away in the end. . . . This is right up there with War For The Oaks in terms of quality and ambition, using the urban-fantastical landscape of Bordertown to tell a story of love, hate, dreams, and obsession. Hard-boiled and heartbreaking, it's worth the cover charge and more.

Oh, but there is so much more here -- it's a rich enough tale that I've read it three or four times over the intervening years since Emma sent me this copy. It's a richer, more nuanced tale than the decade earlier work she did in War For The Oaks, which I also dearly adore and reread as often as I do this novel. Not to mention her Bone Dance novel. . . . Yes, she's that good!

So why's it so good? First, consider that it's a fully realized urban landscape that one could well imagine being part of. Like her husband Will Shetterly in his two B-Town novels, Elsewhere and Nevernever, I get the strong feeling that Emma believes B-Town exists as depicted in the level of detail in her novel. Just take this passage that has Orient describing the Hard Luck Cafe there:

It was warm inside in spite of the fans, and busy, and noisy, and remarkably like a combination of farmhouse kitchen, private club, and arts salon. Anyone who makes trouble at the Hard Luck Cafe is considered an incurable misfit, even within the loose social contract of Bordertown, and is not welcome anywhere, to anything. Consequently, the Hard Luck's habitués include humans, elves, and halfies, people from Dragontown and slummers from up on the Tooth, painters and gang leaders. It's such a desirable place to simply be that it's almost too much to hope that the food is good. The food is good.

Oh, cool! But writing a believable world is just an aspect of a great novel I fall in love with. The other two are is characters that I can connect with as believable beings, and a plot that allows those characters to engage in the story in ways that make me as a reader believe that what is happening worth knowing about it. Finder aka Orient is the central character here and, damn, I'd like to sit down in the Hard Luck Cafe and have a pint of homebrewed ale with him as a truly cool character. He is nicknamed Finder for his gift that compels him to locate things and people when specifically asked to do so.

Other characters include his working partner Tick-Tick, a punkish elf woman whose gift for making and fixing technical things was as disturbing to her parents as Orient's talent was to his before he ran away to the city called Bordertown. Cop Sunny Rico and her working partner Linn, also an elf, are fully rounded characters who are part of the police procedural element. There are other, briefly glimpsed characters that cry out for stories of their own to be told, but not here. Sigh. . . .

There's a back-cover blurb on a later edition from Pamela Dean, author of Tam Lin and other stellar works of fantasy, that warns you that this book 'will sneak up on you and break your heart'. Damn right it does, as bad things will happen to folks you'll like.

Oh, you noticed I didn't mention anything at all about the plot, including what the fascinating mystery is that will be unraveled here by Orient and others. No, I won't give away anything as you deserve to savor it without knowing anything about it. After you read it, come find me in the Green Man Pub and I'll be happy to discuss Finder at length over a few pints of really good ale as served by Farrel Din himself.

Now excuse as I'm off to find my favorite comfy reading spot so I can read Finder once again!

[Cat Eldridge]