Thursday, 21 January 2010
‘Muse and Reverie’ – Charles de Lint (Tor)
There’s something about the winter months that seem to draw me towards Charles de Lint’s latest work. Of course, this could simply be a case of the publication schedule coinciding with my desire to read away a rotten day outside, there’s nothing like reading a good book indoors when the weather’s bad! I guess that’s part of it but I don’t tend to read to publication schedules though (I wish I had the time!) My reading Charles de Lint in the winter months is more about knowing that, for me, his books are a lovely warm read that will balance out the chill of the air outside.
It’s no surprise then that the end of January (and some bitterly cold winter days) have seen me pick up de Lint’s latest collection for a read. Not all of the stories did it for me but then I wasn’t really expecting all of them to blow me away in any case. In any collection I find there’s always a couple of stories that don’t do the business for one reason for another.
Despite this though, the bottom line is that Charles de Lint has delivered another collection full of the magic that only he can conjure up. If you’re like me, not all of the stories will be to your taste but there’s more than enough there to keep you reading. 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. The city of Newford itself is a spectacular setting in this respect, a city that’s as ordinary as the one you live in but with that hint of magic in the air that makes turning the next corner a real adventure. I’m also a fan of the gentle tone that de Lint uses when he tells his stories. Not only does it reinforce the fact that these are modern day fairy tales but this tone also serves to make the dark moments even darker when they arrive. You’re lulled into a false sense of security and before you know it you’re in the middle of darkness that you never knew was round the corner...
I never quite know how to tackle short story collections in terms of a review. Sometimes I’ll go for general impressions, and single out stories that caught my eye, but this time I thought it might be cool to go through the whole list and give short thoughts on each story. Here goes...
‘Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box’
This story of a girl coming into contact with the otherworld, through a paint box, does a good job of setting the magical tone for the rest of the book but I found it to be a little too predictable in it’s outcome. Having said that though, it does well to show how you can compromise between the real world and the imaginary, having both at the same time. Maybe not the best story to open the book on...
Do you ever find yourself getting into something far too much? In Newford, that kind of attitude can yield unexpected results but can also help you sort through issues that seemed far too complicated before. I liked the humour in this one and as a frustrated writer (on occasion) completely identified with characters that can come to life, from the page, and put a spanner in the works. I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Refinerytown’ become a series of it’s own but that’s unlikely to happen... :o(
‘A Crow Girls Christmas’
Here’s a story that is full of the best kind of humour, the sort that you can only find in two people having the time of their lives and not giving a damn about anything else. It’s a shame then that I had the feeling that I should have read a lot more of de Lint’s work to really get what the Crow Girls were all about... One for long time fans I think, this one might not be for first time readers if my reaction was anything to go by.
‘Dark Eyes, Faith and Devotion’
A cab driver working in Newford must have a thousand stories to tell (could that be a theme for another collection?) and this is one of them. Our hero finds himself helping out on a kidnapping quite unlike any other... Magic and reality clash in a front room and de Lint deftly shows how quick thinking can outwit the strongest magic of all. ‘Dark Eyes’ is also a detailed portrait of a former criminal with a kind heart, a character that I was more than happy to spend a few minutes with. A favourite of mine.
If you could go back in time, would you change your own history? Should you change it? That is the theme of this story where a man’s attempts to stop his younger brother dying show that sometimes the past is best left as it is, or is it? Sometimes the path to redemption has lots of unexpected twists and turns and this makes ‘Riding Shotgun’ such an interesting read. I loved the way that everything came together to form an ending that’s bittersweet yet full of promise for the future. One of the better stories in this collection.
Here’s one for anyone who’s ever been bullied and wished that everything would magically get better. It’s also a tale of heart break and hope that kept me hanging even though I knew how it had to end. I didn’t have a tear in my eye! Well, maybe a little one...
‘That was Radio Clash’
I didn’t get this one, I have to say. I liked the method of time travel but I wasn’t sure what the actual point of it was. A possible problem here was that certain characters weren’t sure either and that uncertainty bled off the page. Having said that though, I’m not put off completely and would go back for a second read at least.
‘The Butter Spirit’s Tithe’
I love tales where human ingenuity gets the better of otherworldly creatures and ‘The Butter Spirit’s Tithe’ is full of this. ‘The Butter Spirit’ is a tale that demands your attention (the stakes are high) and promises a payoff that it delivers in style. I wanted to high five our hero by the end!
‘Da Slockit Light’
This story bugged me in the same way that the opening story did. Lovely setting and tone but a little too predictable for my liking. Everything seemed to fall into place a little too easily and real life isn’t like that. Fairytales maybe but not real life. This is a fine line to draw, when you’re writing about both at once, and ‘Da Slockit Light’ couldn’t maintain the balance.
‘The Hour Before Dawn’
People with magical powers can sometimes spend their whole lives helping everyone except the one person who really needs it. ‘The Hour Before Dawn’ sees the tables being turned in a gentle yet very effective way; it also gently reminds us that we shouldn’t judge people by what we see at first glance and has an ending like a flower about to blossom. Lovely stuff.
‘Newford Spook Squad’
I don’t read enough ‘Hellboy’ so it was a nice surprise to open this book and find a story about the big guy! De Lint handles the character well by adopting the novel approach of putting him in the background and letting his presence do the talking for him. The focus instead lies on the man in charge of the newly formed ‘Spook Squad’, a man who denies the supernatural for very good reason. The journey through the sewers is actually Sam Cray’s journey towards revelation and new found purpose. Not only is it very well done but you also get to see Hellboy take on a Kraken; you can’t lose!
Chance meetings can give rise to many things, especially in Newford. For me, the payoff was inspiring but this story was all about the conversation between the two lead characters. Talk about opening a window into the soul... ‘In Sight’ was a story that stayed with me a long time after finishing it.
‘The World in a Box’
Absolute power doesn’t corrupt so much as it makes everything a whole lot more complicated than when you started... Sometimes it’s far easier to take a step back, and then keep walking! ‘The World in a Box’ isn’t so much about the magic as it is about one man’s attempts to sort his life out using magic. The lesson is a little too heavy handed for my liking but the characters are so well drawn that I had to see how they ended up! A great way to bring the curtain down on the collection.
‘Muse and Reverie’ is a mixture of stories that work and ones that just fail to hit the mark. As a whole though, this book is well worth the read.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten