This latest short story collection by Charles de Lint contains stories set in his fictional Canadian town of Newford. Readers of his Newford books will be pleased to see old favorite characters appear in these pages, including Jilly Coppercorn, the Crow Girls and Meran, as well as new characters who are also residents of Newford.
There are thirteen tales of varying lengths, and the themes prevalent in so much of de Lint's work are all present: the importance of music and arts, the mysteries of life and death, the crucial choices we make in our lives that take them irrevocably in a specific direction, and, of course, the wonder of the world that is there, if only we will pause for a moment to take a look around us.
One need not be a regular reader of de Lint's work to appreciate these tales. Although there is one, "A Crow Girls' Christmas," that may puzzle those who are unfamiliar with those two irrepressible characters. That story was one of my favorites, a whimsical look at Christmas in Newford, and what happens when the two girls take jobs as Santa's elves at the mall. It is a delightful tale that just tickled me to pieces.
I also enjoyed "Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box," which I'd actually read previously but enjoyed just as much the second time around. It features Lily, who is also the protagonist of one of de Lint's children's books (A Circle of Cats - a lovely book lavishly illustrated by Charles Vess). Lily, an aspiring artist, discovers an abandoned box of paints in the forest and realizes it belonged to a famous painter who disappeared years earlier. Magic and the mists of faerie are tangled up in the mystery of his absence.
"Da Slockit Light" is another engaging story, in which another mysterious absence is central. The apparently ageless musician Cerin Kellady has disappeared into the forgotten city under Newford. His wife Meran wouldn't be so worried if his harp, which normally murmurs to itself even when the musician isn't around, hadn't suddenly gone silent. She turns to the boy who tried to pick her pocket earlier in the day, knowing that his sharp eyes and quick reflexes might be able to bring back information that she, because of her nature, wouldn't be able to find out for himself. The young thief isn't sure what to expect - nor why he's keeping his word to Meran - and what he finds beneath the city is beyond his wildest imagining. A story that could have been a simple good vs. evil tale becomes something more interesting and complex when de Lint is spinning it.
One final story I'll mention is "Newford Spook Squad," which involves a tough, cynical cop who finds himself heading Newford's latest task force, responsible for investigating the increasingly bizarre occurrences that are reported in and around Newford. He feels ridiculous about the whole thing, but his first assignment soon reveals that he's going to have his hands full. This one was funny and action packed, and I would love to hear more about the Spook Squad's adventures, and more about the narrator himself.
The other stories are wonderful, too, touching, funny, surprising and full of a very real sense of wonder that I've come to expect from de Lint, one of my very favorite authors. I am always delighted to take a walk through the various neighborhoods of Newford, and this collection of stories is an excellent addition to the other collected tales.
B&OT Reviews of other books by Charles de Lint:
Angel of Darkness
A Circle of Cats
Little (Grrl) Lost
Waifs and Strays
Muse and Reverie by Charles de Lint (Tor, 2009)
Also reviewed at:
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review: "De Lint looks at old fairy tale themes of redemption, courage and honour (love as well, there’s always love...) and effortlessly brings them into a modern setting by introducing us to well drawn characters facing dilemmas that only a brush with the otherworld can cure."
Ms. B's Book Extravaganza: "Never frivolous with words, de Lint focuses on the characters, and how they learn and grow after interacting with these mystical beings. In his world, fantasy and reality coexist, and somehow, it makes perfect sense."