Monday, 12 November 2007
‘The Ivory and the Horn’ – Charles de Lint (Tor Books)
Just over a week ago I posted a short piece about urban fantasy and what I thought it was. Someone (can’t remember who) left a comment saying ‘how can you write about urban fantasy and not mention Charles de Lint?’ The answer was that I’d never read anything by Charles de Lint so didn’t really feel qualified to talk about his work. Funnily enough though, I had a copy of his latest collection of short stories lurking in the ‘to be read’ pile. It seemed like a good time to see what ‘The Ivory and the Horn’ was like so I picked it up and started reading. I’ve just finished it within the last couple of hours and it’s fair to say that I begrudged every moment that I had to put this book down and come back to the real world. I can usually suspend disbelief and get into whatever I’m reading, it’s not often though that a book has me feeling as many different emotions as this one did. I usually recommend (tell people to steer clear of) a book once I’ve finished the review itself but in this case I’ll make an exception. No matter what you’re into go and find yourself a copy of ‘The Ivory and the Horn’, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
‘The Ivory and the Horn’ is a collection of short stories set in the fictional city of Newford. Having said that, de Lint’s eye for detail and language will leave readers wondering if Newford is in fact a real place. It did with me. Strange things happen in Newford and in the dreams of its inhabitants. Wishes are granted but not in the way that the recipient originally wanted. Redemption can be obtained but in ways that are rarely expected and a dream is never merely a dream but a gateway into another city entirely.
Each of the stories are connected by recurring characters one of which appears to be pivotal to the strange events that occur in Newford. This interconnection between stories means you can either dip in and out (reading a story at a time) or just plunge in to the extent where the book seems less like a short story collection and more like a novel in it’s own right. The supernatural elements are treated differently in each story and the pitfalls of cliché and familiar plot devices are deftly avoided. In ‘Bird Bones and Wood Ash’ there is a strong supernatural theme right from the start but in ‘Pal O’Mine’ it’s only in the last couple of paragraphs that a sense of that ‘otherworld’ is felt. Because of the delicate way in which de Lint treats the ‘sense of the supernatural’, the magic of each tale isn’t overblown and sat just right in my imagination. Not every story engaged me fully but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t fail to stir something deep inside. The ‘magic’ is handled just right but it’s de Lint’s characters that enable this magic to take centre stage. My mark of a good character is how that character makes me react, indifference is not a good sign! Every single one of the people in these stories had me rooting for them throughout, sympathising for their losses and happy for them when things went right. By the time I finished, I felt like I knew Sophie, Dennison and Angel inside out. I’m looking forward to going back and meeting them again.
The only reason this book doesn’t get a top score is simply because some of the stories didn’t blow me away in the same way that others did (‘Pal O’Mine’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ were my two favourites). This is purely a matter of taste and nothing to do with the book itself. ‘The Ivory and the Horn’ left me feeling sad yet elated at the same time, definitely glad that I took the time to read it. Do yourself a favour and find a copy too.
Nine out of Ten