Or What You Will is an utterly original novel about how stories are brought forth from Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Jo Walton.
He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god.
But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years.
But Sylvia won't live forever, any more than any human does. And he's trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.
Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he's got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.
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Hugo and Nebula Award winner Walton (Among Others) brilliantly braids somber realism, fanciful metafiction, and Shakespearean-influenced fantasy into a moving paean to the power of storytelling. The unnamed narrator inhabits the mind of Sylvia Harrison, a successful 73-year-old Canadian author. He has appeared, in various guises, as a character in all 30 of her books including a fantasy trilogy set in Illyria, a rough analogue to Renaissance Italy but he also exists independently of her fiction, if only as a figment of her imagination. Now Sylvia travels to Florence, to draft a sequel both to her Illyria books and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Though Sylvia is loath to admit it to the narrator or even to herself, the narrator knows that she is dying. Unsure of what will happen to him if Sylvia no longer exists, he devises a plan to save them both by immortalizing them in fiction. Walton shifts effortlessly between Sylvia's life, Florentine history, and the plot unfolding in Illyria, giving equal weight to the mundane and the fantastic. The narrator's voice is spellbinding ("What am I? Figment, fakement, fragment, furious fancy-free form. I have been the spark that ignites in a cold winter"), drawing readers into a nuanced meditation on reality and fiction. This gorgeous, deeply philosophical work is a knockout.