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February 2008
 
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Charles de Lint
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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

Interworld, by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves,
Eos, 2007, $16.99.

REMEMBER the buzz you got when you were a kid and first discovered those Robert Heinlein juveniles? Do you have a young person in your life that you'd like to introduce to sf?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, then here's the perfect book for you. And before you give it to that young reader, take the time to read it yourself. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Joey Harker is a kid who can get lost in his own house. But at the start of Interworld he ends up losing an entire world. He walks into a mist and comes out into a world that's only slightly different from his own. He manages to get back to his own world, but not before attracting the unwelcome attention of three groups of beings caught up in an endless war.

There are forces of magic, and forces of science, and standing between them, trying to maintain a balance, is an army of guerrilla soldiers—many of them variations on Joey himself. Because there are many parallel worlds (there's no need for us to go into how or why here—it's a tried and true sf trope that works as well here as it ever has), and because the boy who can get lost in his own house turns out to have the ability to navigate between the worlds, he's recruited by the guerrilla army, which is led by an older version of himself.

This is a fun book, that doesn't dumb down the scientific speculation and definitely has a contemporary feel.

With a collaboration, it's always fun to try to figure who brought what to the table, but it's not so easy here. Both Gaiman and Reaves have distinctive voices, but neither is apparent in Interworld. And while we might think that Reaves brought the sf, since Gaiman is so well known for his fantasy and new takes on mythic material, we have to remember that Gaiman is a writer whose career started with a non-fiction book on sf (that would be Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion).

But in the end it doesn't matter who wrote what. This is a smart, fast-paced book with great dialogue, and an old-fashioned sense of adventure that never feels old-fashioned.

*     *     *

M Is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman,
HarperCollins, 2007, $16.99.

But if your younger readers prefer fantasy to sf, Gaiman's got another book out that might well appeal to them. There's nothing in here that we haven't seen in other collections, and there are a couple of clunkers—or at least stories that have such an old-fashioned Dunsanian or Wodehousian feel to them ("How To Sell the Ponti Bridge," "Sunbird") that I'm not sure they would appeal to teen readers—but the good stories far outnumber them and they feature Gaiman writing at the top of his game.

Whether they're eerie and bittersweet such as "Troll Bridge" or especially "The Price"; quirky like the story of the boy Bod who lives in a graveyard in "The Witch's Headstone"; or just plain weird as in "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," readers of all ages will enjoy these stories. And they make perfect introductions to the best of what the contemporary fantasy field has to offer for a young reader who's ready to move beyond Harry Potter, Tolkien, or the Narnia books.

*     *     *

Jumper: Griffin's Story, by Steven Gould,
Tor Books, 2007, $24.95.

I like Steven Gould's work, and I like the Jumper books with their teleporting protagonists, but I'm not sure about this latest one. For one thing, with a Jumper movie coming soon, and the resultant deviations that movies can make from the text, Gould has decided to write this new novel consistent with the movie, rather than his earlier books.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to see the two kept separate. And really, how's he going to feel if the movie tanks and all he has left to show for it is a book that's inconsistent with the earlier ones in the series?

(Though for his sake, I hope the movie does well.)

The other thing is that Griffin's Story is basically the same as that of the first Jumper book except that the character Griffin grew up unable to keep his teleportation a secret from the world the way that Davy was able to in Jumper.

Now with that nitpicking aside, I have to say that I still enjoyed the book. Gould remains a fine storyteller, and it's fun to have another one of these books, even with its echoes of déją vu. And just because it's the flip side of Davy's story, that doesn't mean we know how it will all turn out.

Griffin's Story is a darker book—perhaps reflecting the times, considering that the world is certainly a darker place since Jumper was first published—but it's also fast-paced, with moments of great tenderness, and some fine tongue-in-cheek humor, like the scene where Griffin is in the south of France, sketching and sipping a Starbucks latte, and an American girl comes up to ask him where he got his coffee since there isn't a Starbucks anywhere even remotely close by.

The thing with Jumper was that we were able to applaud Davy's ingenuity and enjoy what he did with his life and his ability to teleport. But Griffin is being hunted by ruthless killers who know about, and can track, his ability, and most of his victories are short-lived. It's serious business and we're too busy worrying for him to have the same kind of fun.

In the long run, I think this book will do best with readers new to the world Gould has created—and perhaps the viewers of the film.

*     *     *

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead,
Razorbill/Penguin, 2007, $8.99.

So here's the set-up: The Moroi are mortal vampires with an unbreakable bond to one of the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. They need to be protected from Strigoi, who are like the vampires with which we're more familiar: strong, fierce, and immortal. Protecting the Moroi are the Dhampir, half human, half Moroi.

Before Vampire Academy opens, the Moroi teenager Lissa and her best friend and protector Rose had fled St. Vladimir's Academy, deep in rural Montana, and been living on their own for two years. At the beginning of the book, they're caught and brought back to where Rose will complete her Dhampir education and Lissa will once again be the queen of the Moroi social scene at the school.

The problem is someone is after Lissa, and the school security doesn't seem to be sufficient. Dead animals are left in her dorm room, Lissa has extra abilities she's been keeping a secret, and things are rapidly coming to the point that made the two girls escape previously.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this book. As I was reading the back cover blurb, I found myself asking, Do we really need one more book about teens and vampires and high school?

While I can't answer for you, it turns out I did, because I certainly had fun with this one.

Mostly that's due to the fact that we follow the story through Rose's first person point-of-view. She's got one of those smart, sassy voices and an attitude to match, so it's always entertaining to be in her company.

The pace is quick, the plotting full of twists and turns, and Mead does a fine job of balancing high school politics with the supernatural. But it was that voice of Rose's that I took away and remembered in the end.

I won't call Vampire Academy a must-read book, but it was one of the more entertaining ones I found this year. If you do decide to give it a try, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

*     *     *

Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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