Green Man Review:
Angharad was born a tinker. She has always had the Sight, but one day two witches, Woodfrost and his grandson Garrow, join her father's travelling company, and from them she learns just what having the Sight means. They tell her that through her veins runs the Summerblood, inherited from the kowrie and their lord Hafarl, the ancient fey who still live in the world beyond our sight. Those with Summerblood can see into that world, "into the green," and speak the languages of animals and trees. To the ordinary housey-folk, however, such people are called witches, and they are feared. And sometimes hunted.
In a surprisingly dark and realistic turn for a traditional fantasy story, Angharad's company of tinkers encounters the plague in Chapter Two of Into the Green. When the plague takes the life of Angharad's lover and leaves her bereft of family and community, she seeks out the dread Jackie Lantern and his band of fellow kowrie harpers. She intends to demand the return of her lover from the dead, but instead the kowrie give her another, more precious gift: a harp that can play the music of the green and waken the Summerblood wherever it sleeps. Along with their gift, however, comes a task. An ancient evil in the form of a puzzle box threatens to enslave the souls of any Summerborn who sees it, turning all of the green into desolate blackness. Angharad must find the box, wake it, and destroy it.
Into the Green is studded with beautiful images. The heart of this book is the sort of taut, well-developed suspense story that de Lint weaves so well. How Angharad finds the box, how she discovers disguised enemies and unlikely friends, and how, in the end, the triumph over evil comes through an unsuspected source, make for fast and satisfying reading. Yet I appreciated the book most for its stories-within-stories. One of the most dreamlike and lovely of these is the story of how Angharad in her wanderings discovers a wild boy who claims that a wizard trapped in a tree has bound him. When Angharad ascends the giant tree, she finds a wizardly house built high up in its branches. Angharad wins a riddling contest with the spirit of the tree, and discovers that the bound boy is not what he seems. The outcome of the story is a classical example of fairy tale transformation.
Any writer who consistently turns out solid, well-written books leaves the reviewer in a bit of a quandary. After all, not every book can be his "best book," can it?
From Darrell Schweitzer, 1993:
Canadian writer and folk musician Charles de Lint has been a steady producer of fantasy fiction that shows clear respect for what Tolkien accomplished in The Lord of the Rings, yet has moved beyond it, into something distinctly his own. De Lint can feel the beauty of the ancient lore he is evoking. He can well imagine what it would be like to conjure the Other World among ancient standing stones. His characters have a certain fallibility that makes them multidimensional and human, and his settings are gritty. This is no Disneylike Never-Never Land. Life and death in de Lint's world are more than a matter of a few words or a magic crystal.
From Science Fiction Chronicle, October 1993:
In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be just another tale of magic and mayhem, but instead we have a rich depiction of real people in another environment, and the consequences of prejudice, obsession with power, and other vices is a universal one. One of his better fantasies.
From The Vancouver Sun, 1993:
Within a chapter I felt completely enmeshed… De Lint is a modern bard who knows how to use the poetry of the written word to entrance his reader. In all of his work, there is a constant interplay between love and lament… A superb storyteller, de Lint can be a writer of great imaginative flights…
From Locus Magazine, October 1993:
…the writing is fine, with beautiful descriptive passages and a real and potent sense of magic in an interesting and carefully-thought-out magical system.
Into the Green is a slim novel, a fast-paced story about magic, friendship, witch-hunting, and the evil that can exist in all of us. It is also one of the last non-Newford novels that Charles de Lint wrote—in the years since 1993, he has focused almost exclusively on Newford in novels (Memory and Dream, Trader, and Someplace to Be Flying) and short story collections (Dreams Underfoot, The Ivory and the Horn, and Moonlight and Vines). So it's interesting to read Into the Green as de Lint's last testament to the roots of his career.
Into the Green moves at an extremely fast pace. The main character, Angharad, has fallen in love and lost her whole family to the plague by Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, she tries to call her dead husband, Garrow, back from the dead and is dissuaded by an older magician. These sections might be considered as backstory, except that de Lint takes the book smoothly and seamlessly into the next few chapters, and only by looking back when the book is done can you see where the "plot" in the conventional sense began. In Chapter 4, a desert tribesman finds an artifact in a building buried in the sand, and like most magic artifacts, this is what causes all the difficulty later on. However, Angharad doesn't get the quest to destroy the artifact until Chapter 10.
In the meantime, we have learned a great deal about Angharad, and she carries the book quite easily, as she is sympathetic and interesting. The first three chapters are a journey through madness for her, and once she has regained her equilibrium, she is forced to fight against discrimination and prejudice. Angharad can be a bit ruthless, as in her treatment of Tom, the soldier who is drinking himself to death in denial and fear. Tom takes her motivational words to heart and redeems himself by the end, but harsh words were spoken along the way. Angharad gathers some other strange allies along the way, like the enigmatic pair of Lammond and Veda. Lammond has a personal vendetta against all members of the aristocracy, and his goals happen to coincide with Angharad's for a brief time. What are Veda's motivations? There are many revelations along the way, all written satisfyingly.
De Lint deals with the theme of the witch-hunt in Into the Green, as Angharad deals with suspicion and ignorance. Her friend Pog comes to a bad end in Chapter 9 as a result of this ill-feeling, and Angharad herself is constantly fending off the witch-hunters. In the middle of the book, Angharad has a conversation with a man named Tow about the witch-hunters. Tow says, "'They get paid by the head. If there's no witches around that they can agree to, they'll make one of their own.'" The conversation turns to the monetary rewards involved in the trade in witches' fingerbones. All rather chilling, and sharply written.
Into the Green is a quick read and is recommended if you are wondering what de Lint was doing in the years before he created Newford. This book can't quite match the massive achievement that is Newford, but I enjoyed on its own merits all the same.
Kirkus Reviews, 09/01/93:
The Green is how de Lint (Dreams Underfoot, The Little Country, Spiritwalk, etc.) recasts Faerie, accessible to those with the (now many times diluted) Summerblood that confers magical abilities. Young Angharad is thrice magical: a witch through her Summerblood, born and raised a tinker, and a harper after an encounter with a wizard dwelling within a tree. The sands of a nearby desert momentarily retreat to expose a puzzle-box, an ancient artifact of vast and evil power; the Lords of the Green charge Angharad with locating and destroying the puzzle-box, lest it annihilate the Green itself. After various adventures—and aided by an assassin who seeks vengeance upon the aristocracy—Angharad prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice; but matters do not go entirely according to plan.... Thin as tissue paper, insubstantial as air.
Booklist, 10/01/93, American Library Association:
Angharad, a young woman gifted—as tinker, harper, and witch—with three strains of magic, is sent, against her own misgivings, on a quest to find, open, and banish a puzzle box that threatens to destroy the people of the mythical Middle Earth. As she wanders the Green Isles in search of others with a touch of witch blood to be allies in her task, Angharad fans hatred in those fearful of witchcraft and loyalty in unexpected quarters. De Lint has again woven a tale rich in Celtic myth and magic and featuring memorable characters and tight plotting. Also a musician, de Lint intends to append some "Tunes from the Kingdoms of the Green Isles" for "small harp and other melody instruments" to the published book.