Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for the ARC! This book will be published on July 7 2020.
My Rating: 5 stars
As soon as I finished Tooth and Claw earlier this month, I knew I had to read everything else that Jo Walton has written. And then the opportunity to read Or What You Will fell into my lap. You can imagine my delight! What I liked about Tooth and Claw is that it was an entirely unique reading experience. The same can be said for Or What You Will and to an even greater degree. I have never, ever read a book like this before. I say that as the highest form of praise. Walton is an absolute genius storyteller; everything from her worldbuilding to her character development is amazing. And her writing itself is divine.
This book is metafiction, which could be a turn off for many readers. It’s always been rather hit or miss for me. But this is the best example of it I have ever encountered. It never felt confusing, overdone, or pretentious. The story is told by an unnamed Narrator living in the mind of author Sylvia Harrison. He is her childhood imaginary friend, her muse, and a character in all of her books. He plans to use her next–and possibly final–book as a way for the two of them to live forever.
We get two interwoven stories within this book. First is Sylvia’s life story: we learn about her childhood, her two marriages, and her time spent in Florence. The second is the story she is writing; it is a fantasy novel set in a re-imagined Florence called Illyria that borrows characters from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Tempest. Sometimes when there are two stories like this, it can be easy to become invested in one but not the other. I didn’t find that to be the case here; I found both equally fascinating. I loved seeing the worldbuilding and magic in Illyria, but I also enjoyed learning about Sylvia and her relationship with the Narrator. And Walton weaves them together beautifully!
Overall, this is a gorgeous book that is written as a love letter to reading, writing, Florence, Shakespeare, and the Renaissance. If you’re a fan of one or more of those, definitely check this book out!