On The Cover: The time: an alternate 2008. The place: Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Oil has dried up. The economy has collapsed. Residents barter and grow backyard gardens to survive. The suburbs are walled strongholds of wealth and weapons. The Twin Cities teeter on the brink of anarchy. As urban unrest grows, war becomes imminent.
If that’s not enough, star student and runner Clair Ibsen has problems of her own. At 15, her life is upside down. Her father has lost his job. Now their house is in foreclosure and in the middle of a war zone. Facing homelessness, Clair suffers from the ailment of the age: anxiety. Her cure? To run!
Among these dizzying challenges, Clair puts her feet to work as a messenger for a secret coven of urban witches. In return, they agree to use their elegant arts of persuasion help her family. As each mission takes her deeper into the heart of her fractured city, Clair soon finds that such persuasion comes at a cost…
In her epic quest to save her home, Clair contends with betrayals by old friends, wannabe urban vampires, a slightly crazed punk rock spiritual advisor, tensions between the Twin Cities’ ethnic factions, and the persistent advances of an unbalanced teenage feudal lord who wants to make her his queen.
Published: October 2014
Why I Chose It: I received a free advanced copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
I was originally intrigued by this book because of the format. It is not the first book I have read in a “poem” format, so it wasn’t entirely alien to me. The really nice thing about Hansen’s story is that he doesn’t force language or rhyme on his readers, he simply uses today’s English in a slightly different form. And although the lines are written in iambic pentameter, it doesn’t rhyme, and as such I found it incredibly easy to read. It took only about half a page for my brain to accept the new format and focus on the story.
Every way I look at it, this book is a breath of fresh air. I’m sadly getting a little fatigued of your typical teen fantasy read, and The Epic of Clair is an amazing substitute. By using the form that he does, Hansen really reminded me of how beautiful language can be. He doesn’t use Shakespearean English or anything like that, but he does use occasional words that are a little less common and really showed how varied our language can be. He has some really beautiful passages and I really enjoyed this style of description. And most of all, gone are the endless dialogue tags that overflow today’s young adult novels, “He said,” “She cried,” “He asked,” “She blushed,” because they don’t really have a place here (although the occasional one does exist). But the story really shows another way to use and manipulate dialogue and I really enjoyed the different medium.
The story itself was also refreshing. While this is a dystopian novel, it’s a nice change from the typical books I’ve read. Clair and her family are normal people who have lost their jobs, and are just trying to survive by growing food in their backyard. They’re dealing with basic problems, like not being able to go to school, and having no gas for their car to go anywhere. Clair gets a job delivering letters by foot, and the parts Hansen writes about running are really lovely to read. But the whole story had these incredibly normal pieces where it was realistic and believable, and I loved how much of the story was set on firm ground.
This of course leads to the fantasy part of the book. It’s so subtle that I am in love with it. The “vampires” are your typical urban teenagers bent on making an impression, the “jester” a man in a mask. The urban “witches” use their “magic” in the form of persuasive letters to important people, which Clair then delivers. There were all these tiny details that really paid homage to classic epic poems, yet it didn’t take away from the realism from the book. I could totally believe this was Clair’s imagination as she made her surroundings colourful, simply a way to deal with her reality. Or you could choose to believe these women really were witches – there was a certain ambiguity to the story, as to what was real and what Clair made it to be. I think that made me love it more, because it’s definitely one of those stories that will mean something different to each reader. Plus Clair’s numerous references to different classic or fantasy books that she herself had read made it even more amazing.
I enjoyed this book a lot because of all the tiny little details that Hansen really works into his writing. There are so many good aspects to it: the interesting use of language; the references to all kinds of different works; his subtle use of fantasy creatures and people; the list goes on. Yet these details added up into a really enjoyable story about today’s world in the midst of an economic failure, and how one girl tries to deal with it. While I don’t think this story is for every reader simply because of the format, I cannot stress how easy it is to read, and definitely recommend it for anyone who loves dystopians, poetry, or fantasy reads.
Rating: 4 / 5
“To run on a golf course
granted Clair freedom and the relative
scenery to place her in Middle Earth.
There, she could chase after kidnapped hobbits,
or bear a message for Galadriel.
A golf course was supposed to imitate
ye old English countryside, after all. ” p 39
“[Emails] are easily duplicated and
therefore they are mostly disregarded.
But a handwritten note reminds people
of their grandmothers, great-aunts, women
named Florence or Abigail, unknown names
of women one hardly remembers now
except as the senders of birthday cards
who had class, integrity, penmanship.” p 78
“Grander, though, was the fact the Central Branch
Library still opened its innocent doors.
The librarians were said to come each day
to lend and protect the books without pay.” p 162