Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Review: Red Tash's Troll or Derby

So, what happens when roller derby meets fairies, trolls and drug cartels?

Red Tash, formerly Tyra Durden of the Derby City Rollergirls,  could tell you. Her previous novels include This Brilliant Darkness and The Wizard Tales, and this time, she's penned Troll or Derby, a roller derby fantasy novel about a roller skater from the Midwest named Deb and Harlow, a musician who happens to be a troll. Tash takes you from burning meth labs to supermarket aisles to the fairy underworld hidden in the heartland. Smart, fast-paced and constantly changing perspectives and locales, Troll or Derby is a kaleidoscopic page-turner that hits the ground skating.

Tash has a gift for pointing out funny, macabre details and leaves each chapter dangling, keeping the plot going. Like Holly Black's urban fantasy Tithe, but for the rural set or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files for the young skater, Troll or Derby is funny, dark fantasy with a pop culture sensibility. Music has a particular presence in the book, informing both chapter headings and key moments in the plot.

Of the two main characters, Harlow is a particularly engaging narrator, though Deb's perspective takes on added charm the more fairy world and roller derby come to the fore. Dialogue early in the book is occasionally stilted, due to the necessity of building a sense of the text's world.  Deb herself reads almost too cool to be true by the book's end, but ultimately she's balanced by Harlow's tusked, self-deprecating charms. For spoiler-containing considerations of the book's sexual politics, highlight the following: Deb's queer-inflected sexuality, combined with her escape from the clutches of an immensely sexy but irredeemably evil derby wife along with Harlow's love for her reads uncomfortably like a heterosexual rescue arc at first glance. However, upon a second look, Deb and Harlow's relationship seems ultimately more complex than a simple romance and I hope future installments of the story follow through with that.  

But what about the roller derby? Aside from Deb being frequently referred to as 'Roller Deb,' which I  must admit I found a bit grating at first, derby really only comes to the centre of the rink in the final third of the book. When it does, however, it gets it just right. Tash captures the spell of derby in a wonderfully literal way, from the intensity of the derby wife and intra-team relationship to the whirlwind of the sometimes too-hard partying we associate with the derby lifestyle. Tash uses just the right fairy tale trope inflections to make the book's derby scenes stand out. They are just delicious. And it turns out that fairy knee pads stink just as bad as human ones.

All in all, Troll or Derby is hell on wheels. We can only hope for more. Visit to learn more and order your copy.

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