Book Review: Summerlong by Peter S Beagle

Summerlong is the newest novel from Peter S. Beagle, his first full length novel since Tamsin. If you are not familiar with Beagle’s name, you certainly have heard of his most famous novel, The Last Unicorn. Summerlong is an adult fantasy novel, but grown up Unicorn fans will still enjoy his prose and perhaps even some of the more whimsical elements found in Summerlong.

Abe and Joanna have been together for 22 years, and seem quite content with their lives. For most of the book, the reader can certainly understand what they see in each other; Joanna is no-nonsense but worries, Abe is very blunt but laid back. Neither are perfect people, but well rounded characters that we can root for. Joanna has a grown up daughter, Lily, from a previous marriage. While the trio is not entirely happy with their lives when we first meet them, they certainly feel settled in their ways and not looking for any dramatic changes. Change is coming, however, and they invite it to stay with them for the summer.

Change comes in the form of  young Lioness, who is quite literally a manic pixie dream girl. No, really. She is beautiful, everyone loves her at first sight, and she is magical. Here is where the book started to lose me. Lioness is fawned on endlessly by all characters, and isn’t much of a character herself. She is obviously not a normal human being, but when her true nature is revealed, I felt a little disappointed but mostly indifferent. This is where I wonder if I am just in the wrong age range to enjoy this. Perfect magical girls no longer hold my fancy as they did when I was a child, and perhaps I am not old enough to enjoy the idea of a magical creature storming into my life in my golden years. It is also incredibly annoying how fast and easily Lioness is forgiven the moment she does something wrong. Perhaps this is part of her enchantment over others, and intentional— but so much time is spent on her perfection, I’d rather see her imperfections take center stage when they do come up.

A fan of Greek mythology will guess before Abe who Lioness really is, but when he does finally realize the truth, he accepts it too readily to be believable. It is also unbelievable how easily he convinces Joanna that he is right..So much of the book covers Abe and Joanna’s everyday lives and worries, with a bit of Lioness’s magic sprinkled throughout. Suddenly towards the end, it becomes all about magic and how it affects the mortal characters. The build up was not very strong and it feels very unsatisfactory. I am okay with where Abe and Joanna are at the end; given what they’ve been through it makes a lot of sense. I also enjoy the message that you’re never too old for change.  But so much of it centered around Lioness! She could have been a magical lamp post for all that she as a person mattered. The one crucial thing she does to change Abe and Joanna’s lives forever could easily have been done by any mortal character. And that I think is the big problem with the book; the magic stuff feels totally unnecessary and underdeveloped. Beagle seemed to want to play around with a few ideas about mythology and morality, but by the time he ties it all together it just feels like it gets in the way of more interesting plots and characters.

Beagle’s prose is as always, beautiful. Gardner Island, the fictional setting just off of Seattle, is easy to visualize, both by it’s description but also the charm Beagle weaves into the sleepy little island. The real enchantment of the book lies in the mundane little details that build a strong impression in the reader’s mind.  

Summerlong will be release September 30th, and is available for preorder from Tachyon Publications.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.