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Forests of the Heart
Charles de Lint
Tor Books, 400 pages

Forests of the Heart
Charles de Lint
Charles de Lint has been writing urban fantasy, mixing elements of Native American and Celtic folklore, for a long time. Many of his earlier stories, such as Moonheart, Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon (both later republished together as Jack of Kinrowan), Ascian in Rose, Westlin Wind and Ghostwood (later collected and republished as the single volume Spiritwalk) explored this, using the city of Ottawa as a backdrop. The fictional city of Newford became the stage for novellas such as "Ghosts of Wind and Shadows", "Our Lady of the Harbour", "The Wishing Well", The Dreaming Place; short story collections such as Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn; and novels such as Memory and Dream, Trader, and Someplace to be Flying.

Charles de Lint Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Charles de Lint
SF Site Review: Jack of Kinrowan
SF Site Review: Moonlight and Vines, A Newford Collection
SF Site Review: Someplace to be Flying
Information about the Tamson House Mailing List
One Tamson House
Newford Chronicles

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Many of Charles de Lint's Newford novels mix Celtic and Native American folklore and magic together against a gritty 20th-century urban background. In Forests of the Heart, de Lint places the two traditions in direct conflict. The Irish Gentry, or hard men, who had come to America with Irish immigrants, have decided it is time to claim the region near Newford as their own. This puts them up against the manitou, the native American spirits who already inhabit the land.

Caught in between the Celtic and Indigenous spirit struggle is Ellie Jones, an artist who has been hired by an enigmatic androgynous client to recast an ancient mask, and her acquaintances. One of those acquaintances, Donal Greer, a friend and former lover, serves as Ellie's instructor in the ways of the hard men. Another acquaintance, Tommy Raven, a member of one of the local Native tribes, introduces Ellie to his 16 aunts who are wise in the ways of Native American magic. Not satisfied with just those forays into spirituality, de Lint also introduces Bettina San Miguel, a Mexican-Indian living at an artist colony outside Newford who has knowledge of la época del mito, the land of spirits.

As always, de Lint does a fabulous job depicting the lively Newford art scene, making his characters, their haunts and their art and music come fully to life for the reader. Complex and realistic relationships appear throughout the novel against the background of magic which pervades de Lint's landscape. Hunter, the music store owner, is trying to sort out his own life after his breakup with Ria and turns his attention, alternately to Miki, Donal's sister who works for him, and Ellie, whom he has only recently met. Ellie can fulfill several roles throughout the novel, ranging from a volunteer for Angel, an outreach program, to artist to, possibly, saviour of the world. Not all characters and situations ring true. When one of the characters suddenly becomes an agent for the forces of evil, the change is so abrupt and untelegraphed that it does not ring true.

More than his other novels, Forests of the Heart has a large cast of characters, but they are each unique enough that the reader is in no danger of confusing any of the characters with any other. This also allows de Lint to examine a wide range of relationships. While the human characters are clearly fleshed out, the spiritual hard men remain mysterious. They are a faceless group, indistinguishable from each other. Their plans are meticulously crafted, although it is not always clear to the humans, or to the reader, how they will achieve their ends, or even what, exactly, their goals entail.

Ironically, given de Lint's skillful ability with magic, the novel's strongest portions are in the chapters when he is completely focused on the characters, their lives and surroundings. The sequences which deal most explicitly with magic, whether Bettina's journey into la época del mito or the final confrontation with the hard men and their allies, tend to be less polished. Even the hard men who are creatures of the spirit realm, seem better depicted as shadowy drunks hanging around in bars waiting for a brawl than as powerful spirits capable of the damage they are bent on inflicting.

Early in the novel, Donal Greer appears to be speaking for de Lint when he comments that

"there's magic everywhere you turn, if you pay attention to it. Little miracles, like your being in the right place at the right time..."
For fans of de Lint, Forests of the Heart is a welcome addition to the library of his work. For people who haven't read de Lint yet, what are you waiting for?

Copyright © 2000 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Vice-Chairman of Windycon 28 and Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. Steven is a Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with his wife, daughter and 4000 books.

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