If you’re a fantasy fan, the answer is probably yes. When that author reappears, as though revived from the dead, and releases a new novel after said silent decades, have you ever ran screaming to the store to buy it only to be disappointed? I have. Unfortunately, I feel like Peter S. Beagle let me down with Summerlong.
Beagle never disappeared completely off the fantasy scene, but this was his first highly publicized work since The Last Unicorn in 1995. It’s a tiny thing, coming in at 240 pages, and yet it took me 9 days to read it. I just couldn’t make myself care about the characters, though they were well fleshed out. Lioness, the hub around which the story spins, was less a character than a lovely idea. The big revelation that doesn’t come about until the last 50 or so pages of the book isn’t that big of a revelation for a mythology fan, which I feel many fantasy readers are. The best part of the book was the gorgeous cover, which also gives some of the story away if you know your mythology. (Side note: I generally care little about what a book looks like; it's what's inside that matters, right? But man, that cover is gorgeous.)
This tale brought the mythic into our reality. The story took place on Gardner Island, a fictitious island huddled inside Washington’s Puget Sound, and life was pretty ordinary there until Lioness came on the scene. Abe and Joanna, a happily unmarried couple of twenty years, take Lioness in, and their lives and the life of Jo’s daughter Lily change, for better or for worse. There was no new ground covered here. If you want mythological deities in modern America, I heartily suggest American Gods by Neil Gaiman. But this story was lackluster. Not terrible, but far from amazing. The writing was still lovely, as Beagle’s writing always is. The small scale of the story should have made it emotional and moving, but it’s hard to be moved by what you fail to connect with.
Beagle gave fantasy fans something special with The Last Unicorn. It was breathtaking, and I still remember reading it for the first time when I was twelve. I had found it in a used bookstore, hiding among The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. It was a sparkling jewel in a tattered jacket, and I treasure it still. Summerlong was missing that magic and felt almost crude in comparison. And I mourn what it could have been. But there were a few lines here and there that shined brightly, which gives me hope that whatever special spark Beagle had, he has it still.