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Jack of Kinrowan
Charles de Lint
Tor Books, 412 pages

Art: Tom Canty
Jack of Kinrowan
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, Drink Down the Moon (both later republished 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 backdrop 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: 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 David Soyka

Like singer-songwriter Richard Thompson -- who is "famous" (at least among his dedicated cult following) for "contemporizing" traditional songs of highwaymen and abandoned lovers with tunes featuring motorcycle hoodlums and burnt-out hippies -- Charles de Lint writes stories that recast Celtic folk tales in modern urban settings. In contrast to Thompson's unrelenting dark view of humanity's baser instincts, de Lint still believes in fairy tale endings in which heroes and heroines triumph over evil.

Unlike traditional fairy tales, de Lint's heroes (at least the human ones) are more richly characterized, achieving self-realization of untapped capabilities achieved through their trials in a fay world that co-exists with familiar landscapes. If human intervention in Faerie saves the day for goodly sprites, then recognition of other spheres of existence helps improve the individual human spirit.

Jack of Kinrowan collects two previously published short novels -- Jack, the Giant Killer (1987) and Drink Down the Moon (1990) -- in a single volume. The "Jack" featured in both tales is Jacky Rowan, a 20-ish woman who, drunk and on the rebound from an abruptly ended but unsatisfying relationship, witnesses the murder of a hob, a sort of elf, by the Hunt, a mystic motorcycle gang in the service of evil giants. Her highly agitated and disoriented state of consciousness has enabled her to briefly enter the Faerie universe that inhabits her hometown of Ottawa, Canada. Jacky retrieves the victim's red cap, the wearing of which provides her re-entrance to Faerie until, once her senses fully adjust, she can clearly peer into the alternate world at will.

A good thing, too, since the Hunt is now hot on Jacky's trail. As a "Jack" with the wit of trickster, she is fated to leave behind ordinary life to intervene, however inadvertently, on behalf of the "wee" folk. Fortunately, there's another hob who hones in on the magical traces of the red cap to warn her of her peril, a Gruagagh (a sort of wizard) of uncertain loyalties to protect her with enigmatic advice, and her best friend Kate Hazel (it's not coincidental that the two human characters' surnames are references to certain kinds of trees) to help assist her defeat evil by, you guessed it, killing a couple of giants.

Where Jack, the Giant Killer recounts how Jacky Rowan first comes to liberate the Faerie people from oppression, Drink Down the Moon picks up where Jacky and Hazel have jointly taken on the role of Gruagagh, though they don't quite know how they are supposed to do it. Indeed, Jacky's carelessness puts the realm she protects, not to mention her friends and herself, in considerable danger. There are a new set of characters, including a half-human Faerie out to revenge her sister's death and Johnny Saw, a human fiddler who discovers how certain tunes he learned from a recently deceased grandfather have otherworldly ramifications.

The structure of this second novel is similar to the first: again a murder in Faerie involves humans in confronting evil forces that are not surprisingly but still suspensefully overcome through the timely intersection of key characters drawn together at a precise moment through some cosmically preordained plan. I'm assuming that the Faerie details of both books are accurately drawn from Celtic folklore (and if they're not, de Lint's done a good job of making it seem that way). Drink Down the Moon is a bit more interesting because it focuses on the central role of music in the lore, of which de Lint evidently has gained considerable knowledge as both a working musician and reviewer of Celtic folk music. But the strength of the two novels is centred in how both Jacky and her human friends deal with their insecurities and ignorance in a strange world that ultimately proves more satisfying than "reality." Indeed, I get the feeling that de Lint is extrapolating a bit about characters who are very much like him and his friends. Several main characters are musicians, the setting is explicitly in Ottawa where de Lint lives, and I suspect the characters' rooms he writes about filled with stereo systems and books about folklore and literature reflect his own surroundings. Hell, maybe de Lint even has a hob or two for drinking buddies.

In any event, no matter at what point reality may blur into fantasy, de Lint makes it come alive in a pair of highly entertaining tales. While it's not necessary to have read the first book to understand the second, it's the preferable route, and this compendium offers a convenient and not overwhelming (412 pages) means to do it. I'm not overly familiar with de Lint's oeuvre (a situation I hope to rectify), but as far as I know, these are the only stories that involve Jacky Rowan. At the end of Drink Down the Moon, there are certainly enough possibilities left dangling for future sequels. Here's hoping the prolific de Lint may be considering them for an upcoming novel or two.

Copyright © 1999 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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