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Promises to Keep
Charles de Lint
Subterranean Press, 173 pages

Charles de Lint
Charles de Lint was born in 1951 in Bussum, the Netherlands, and emigrated to Canada at the age of four months. He now lives in Ottawa. He published three novels under the pseudonym Samuel M Key which have subsequently been reprinted by Orb Books as Charles de Lint. Many of his later stories center around the mythical North American city of Newford and a regular cast of characters that make cameo and feature appearances. He has received many awards including the 2000 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection for Moonlight and Vines. He has also published a children's book, Circle of Cats, with artist Charles Vess.

Charles de Lint Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Little (Grrl) Lost
SF Site Review: Widdershins
SF Site Review: Triskell Tales 2
SF Site Review: Moonlight and Vines
SF Site Review: Quicksilver & Shadow
SF Site Review: The Wild Wood
SF Site Review: Mulengro
SF Site Review: A Handful of Coppers
SF Site Review: The Onion Girl
SF Site Review: Forests of the Heart
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

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Promises to Keep Jilly Coppercorn is one of my favourite Charles de Lint characters. I say "one of" because his characters are often so real that to actually pick a favourite would be to somehow slight the rest, like picking a favourite friend or favourite sibling. I love the stories about her, I love the stories she tells, and I still haven't read Widdershins because I worry that it will be the last of her stories for a while. So this, naturally, will be a somewhat biased review.

Promises to Keep is a story about Jilly Coppercorn set in the early 70s, in de Lint's Newford, during her time at Butler University. Having just recently set her life on track after struggling through abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets, she gets a surprise visit from an old friend who offers her a very unusual choice: to stay where she is, or to move with her to paradise.

But paradise in this book isn't an arching hall full of damsels with dulcimers, nor is it an Edenic garden; instead, it's a community of dead people getting the chance to live their lives as they would've liked to. They have jobs, they pay rent, they buy groceries and toiletries, they go out to pubs in the evenings. They work hard at their art or their music, and they have something to show for it at the end of the day. The only problem is, to live in that world, Jilly needs to be dead to her other world first.

In some ways, Promises to Keep reminded me of C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce while reading it; take out Lewis' preaching, put a compassionate heart at its core, and there's a similar story there, and an interesting philosophy for English majors to parse. But the main adventure is also interspersed with Jilly's reflections on her history, and despite how many times I've read about her background from various Newford characters' perspectives, it still manages to get me teary. It isn't being reminded of what she went through; it's the conversations between her and the people she cares about, how real they sound, how the simplest turn of phrase takes you completely by surprise.

While Promises to Keep is as good an entrance as any into the Newford world and its characters, I think Jilly addicts like myself will be especially glad of this book. It's poignant, it's moving, it makes you want to be a better person, and all in all, it's pure de Lint.

Copyright © 2007 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.


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