From Parsec, June 1997:
There are three things the stories in The Ivory and the Horn have in common: Newford, the air of magick that drifts through each tale and de Lint's almost magical talent for making his characters come alive. Beyond those similarities, the stories in this collection demonstrate well the broad range of de Lint's fantastic vision, his point of view and insight into the human spirit.
From Locus Magazine, June 1995:
It's writing like this that transforms what could have been a succession of bleak city scenes and slices of modern life into something more moving, powered by that thing de Lint evokes and promotes with such passion the force of dreams.
From The Toronto Star, May 1995:
Most of these pieces possess de Lint's typically gentle perspective and tone. But, rather than emasculating his work, this cunning style lets him pursue grim themes without alienating mainstream readers.
From Publishers Weekly, March 1995:
De Lint's evocative images, both ordinary and fantastic, jolt the imagination.
In The Ivory and the Horn, the second Newford collection, Charles de Lint produces some of his best work to date. As a Newford collection, The Ivory and the Horn is a stunning success. In my review of Dreams Underfoot, the first Newford collection, I pointed out which specific characters reappeared in this book, and there are a number of them, but The Ivory and the Horn carries on the Newford tradition of a diverse cast of characters and many strange events. De Lint knows how to write love stories like few other fantasy writers; furthermore, he's not afraid to end them sadly, which is as great a gift as his ability to end them happily in a non-cheesy manner. Newford is also a place of pain and hurtful memories, and de Lint does not flinch from these stories either.
"Waifs and Strays" and "The Pochade Box" are about a former streetkid name Maisie, who is trying to balance an inordinate amount of stress in her life. Maisie's story—of healing, of life's difficulties—is repeated again and again in Newford, along with a touch of magic and the extraordinary. "Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery" and "Where Desert Spirits Crowd the Night" deal with Sophie, whose dreams have astonishing power. As a child, she dreamed of Mr. Truepenny's store, but lately she has not done so. In what is perhaps my favourite moment in any fantasy story, Sophie is out shopping one day and a little girl points to her and says, "You're the one who is evicting Mr. Truepenny!"
A few stories in The Ivory and the Horn use Native mythology. In the second story about Sophie's recurring dreams, she must learn about dreaming the First Nation's way, which adds a very different texture than the standard dream-bookstore of fantasy. "Coyote Stories" is about the beginning of pow-wow, and coyote is once again the trickster.
As I've mentioned, de Lint knows how to tell a love story. "Saxophone Joe and the Woman in Black" is of the tragic kind, where sacrifice and common sense don't necessarily go together. "Dream Harder, Dream True" is a carpe diem story, sweetly told, and with an astonishing sense of bittersweet loss. "The Forever Trees" is as much about how we don't understand the psychic landscape of others as it is about the perils of falling in love with a friend.
Part of the beauty of Newford is the way it allows de Lint to tackle tough issues that most standard fantasy settings would ignore altogether. The street life of Newford is vividly written, with nothing in the way of condescension, and people's psychological troubles take equal amounts of the spotlight with the fantastical premises of the stories. For example, in "The Forest is Crying," Dennison is a social worker on the edge of a breakdown. The pain of all the troubled people he works with has gotten to be too much, and his life becomes more and more messed up until he meets a woman named Debra (who disappears again after not too long). With renewed conviction about his ability to change things for the better, he goes back to work, and intervenes in a family; he recognizes the young daughter as the person who will later become Debra. "The Forest is Crying" is both effective fantasy and a fascinating way to make a abstract concept like "helping the children" concrete and meaningful.
Other similar stories in The Ivory and the Horn include "The Wishing Well," which is a lengthy tour de force about anorexia; "The Bone Woman," which is about so-called bag ladies; and "Pal O' Mine," which deals with depression. In "Pal O' Mine," a talented young woman named Gina succumbs to depression, while her friend Sue tries to do what she can. All of the heartbreak and intransigence of human nature is captured here with infinite care, along with the moments of hope that can still be found.
De Lint also has a habit of including some darker stories to keep the mix interesting. "Bird Bones and Wood Ash" is a vigilante story, and one that prefigures one of the concerns in story after story in Moonlight and Vines, the next Newford collection. In "Bird Bones and Wood Ash," a woman stalks the night, wiping the minds of the monsters who abuse their families. She is found out by a social worker, who decides that he can give her the names of the worst offenders in his files. "Dead Man's Shoes" is more of a straight horror story, but it has Angel, the social worker who saved the lives of Maisie and Jilly among others, as the main character. Someone is killing street kids and stealing their shoes, and Angel is having a recurring dream about a mysterious figure.
The Ivory and the Horn is the second of three Newford collections that de Lint has published, and it stands its ground quite effortlessly against those two, as well in the lofty company of the three Newford novels. De Lint has a knack for writing believable and sympathetic characters and Newford gives him the opportunity to write about the people who are, by now, old friends, as well as new friends we're happy to meet.
When I read my first Charles de Lint novel, the genre was still known as urban fantasy. New authors have recently entered the field and the term has changed to mythic fiction, but one fact remains the same: no matter what it's called, Charles de Lint is the master of his field.
The Ivory and the Horn is de Lint's second collection of short stories set in the fictional city of Newford. Readers familiar with de Lint's first collection, Dreams Underfoot, will recognize many familiar faces from Newford in this collection: Jilly Coppercorn, Geordie and Christy Riddell, and Sophie Etoile among them. However, instead of focusing on characters we already know, de Lint moves on to new characters and new stories. Despite the fact that each story exists in the same city with the same background cast of characters, none of the tales repeat themselves. Although many of the stories touch on issues that de Lint feels strongly about (child abuse and family seem to be two of the most frequent), none are redundant. "Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery" and "Where Desert Spirits Crowd the Night" take us into Sophie Etoile's dream world—a world where dream mirrors reality so closely that the two become interchangeable. "Bird Bones and Wood Ash" introduces us to a woman who sets out to avenge abused children—not your average superhero, by any means—while "The Pochade Box" is a story within a story.
De Lint seamlessly meshes myth and magic with the everyday events of Newford. The magic itself seems an integral part of Newford; rather than seeing Coyote or the Bone Woman as something straight out of the Other World, I see them as something straight out of the Inner World. De Lint's strength lies in his ability to match the inner needs of his characters to the archetypes represented by his mythical characters; each character's struggle manifests itself as a representation of magic or myth.
But de Lint's stories are more than Trickster tales or fairy happenings; people symbolize the heart of de Lint's Newford. Whether it means offering to take care of a young boy for a few days or giving a painting to a person who enjoys it, de Lint's message is that we should all help each other out when we can. What's even better is the fact that de Lint imparts this message without sounding preachy or corny; it just feels right.
The Ivory and the Horn is an excellent introduction to Newford. The stories are strong enough to stand on their own, while those reader who know Newford will enjoy the "back" stories that run through this collection. If you're like me, you'll devour these tales instantly; my advice is to go back and re-read them slowly to get the most out of them.
Imagine a Charles de Lint short story collection as the literary equivalent of a box of Godiva chocolates. Each individual tidbit is luscious, rich, and sensuously delicious. Unfortunately, if you eat the whole box at once, those qualities tend to get lost in a blur of overwhelming chocolatosity (sic).
So it is with The Ivory and the Horn, a collection of individual masterpieces that lose their luster only when compared too closely with one another. Each of the stories within, with very few exceptions, shines. The only problem comes if one chooses to read each story back to back to back, at which point each tale's individual charms get lost in the confusion of juxtaposition.
But enough quibbling over the shades of the colors of sunset. Charles de Lint remains, as always, a master of prose. He sketches scenes simply but clearly, and gives the reader enough brushstrokes of detail to allow them to form an attachment to every house and streetcorner in his fictional city of Newford. Much as the characters in the story "Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery" find themselves drawn into the reality of a fiction that they want to believe in, readers of de Lint's stories find themselves drawn into the city he's sketched for us. The characters of the stories presented here are the usual de Lint hodgepodge of race, gender, preference and species -ghosts and other critters share space with bike messengers, editors, social workers and the like, more or less easily. That's one of the beauties of de Lint's world -everyone belongs in it, and sooner or later, all of his characters accept all of his other characters' right to exist. Not only does that spare the reader the interminable scenes of "oh no, there can't possibly be ghosts/vampires/faeries/green men from the planet Elfpants in my safe little world" protestation that clutter up so many other modern fantasies. Charles de Lint allows his characters to believe, or at least to avoid disbelief, and the result is a world that is more subtly magical, and more welcoming to character and reader alike.
So is The Ivory and The Horn recommended? Indubitably. Don't try to read it at one sitting; just take and savor a story here and a story there. "The Bone Woman" and "Dead Man's Shoes" are probably the strongest stories in the collection; each is nicely chilling, yet manages to uplift the reader by the end. Still, there are no weak stories in the collection, and few that are less than excellent. Just take your time reading them, so that each can be appreciated to best effect. Otherwise, you shortchange Newford and yourself.