After Widdershins, I thought I wouldn't write at length about Jilly again. I'd promised one more short story about her for Bill at Subterranean Press, but that would be it.
Having left her in a good place at the end of Widdershins, I didn't want to complicate her life yet again, so I planned to set the story earlier in her life, during her first year as a student at Butler University.
Except the story grew. I was having too much fun visiting with this younger Jilly, so I asked Bill if I could expand it and swap it for the "Newford retrospective" collection that he'd contracted with me. He agreed, and that's how Promises to Keep came to be.
The book takes place in 1972 and begins with Jilly getting a surprise visit from an old friend—her only friend—from her runaway days. Interspersed with the main story that leads off from that meeting are flashbacks to pivotal moments in her life: time spent in the Home for Wayward Girls, her life on the street, meeting and working with the Grasso Street Angel, the first time she meets various familiar faces (Geordie, Sophie, etc.). You'll find out how the messed-up street kid she was grew a social conscience, and became the cheerful character we know from later stories.
Promises to Keep does deal with some serious subjects, but the tone isn't all doom and gloom. And while I hope that those of you familiar with these characters will enjoy this visit with their younger selves, I also believe it turns out to be a friendly entry into Newford for new readers.
Lastly, I'm delighted to say that Mike Dringenberg—an artist I've wanted to work with for ages—has done the cover. Isn't it (from Subterranean Press) gorgeous?
After a childhood of abuse and drug addiction, Jilly Coppercorn, last seen in de Lint's Widdershins (2006), is
well on her way to being normal as an art school student when she runs into Donna Birch, her only friend from the bad old days,
at the start of this appealing urban fantasy set in Newford in 1972. Donna takes Jilly into a realm similar to this
world, but where things have a way of working out better. It's almost a paradise, a place where dreams are almost
too easily realized, until Jilly realizes that the inhabitants are actually dead, souls whose lives were
unfulfilled. She can continue pleasantly enough, but only by abandoning her responsibilities to all the people
who helped her back in the living world. While much of this will resonate more with longtime fans of de Lint's
Newford series, the lucid writing and well-realized characters make this short novel accessible even to new readers. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
De Lint returns to Newford and Jilly Coppercorn's youth, which readers of The Onion Girl (2005) and
other Jilly stories know was extremely painful. The setting here is Jilly's early college days. She is just
beginning to put her abused past behind her. One evening she runs into her only friend from her days in a
juvenile institution, one of the few who know her original name. Bass-playing Donna invites Jilly to see her
band. But no one has heard of the club in question. That's not surprising in Newford, where things and people
come and go, and some things exist only for those who can sense them. When Jilly goes walking with Donna
after the show, she enters another town, in which she can put the past even further behind and be what she
should have been without the intervening wasted years. De Lint presents Jilly's choices, the memories
impelling them, and the solution to the riddle of Donna in his characteristic powerful yet intimate
style. Jilly's reader friends, including those first meeting her, will be more than delighted.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
In his novella Promises to Keep Charles de Lint returns to the early days of one of his most
beloved Newford characters, Jilly Coppercorn. For fans this will be a delight well worth seeking out but
teen readers who have a chance to read it should not pass it up. You do not need any prior knowledge of Jilly's life to enjoy this story and its message of taking control of your life and moving beyond the legacy of a horrific childhood. It is also a very interesting journey into the world of the dead that has the usual de Lint twist of difficult choices and heavy promises.
The story opens with a chance meeting between Jilly and Donna, an old friend. After a brief conversation where Donna invites her to a bar where she will performing later that week, they part and the plot begins to travel back in forth between Jilly's present life as an art student and waitress and her childhood when she first met Donna in the Home for Wayward Girls. As Jilly struggled to overcome her longtime abuse at the hands of her older brother, she and Donna, who lost her entire family to a violent attack, became close friends. A big part of why they got along was Jilly's acceptance that Donna was able to see and speak to her own brother, who was dead.
Over the years as the girls grow up they drift in and out of each other's lives culminating in their dual descents into drug addiction and life on the streets. Jilly gets lucky, finds help and creates a new life with close friends and real prospects for a healthy and happy future. She has long lost track of Donna before they run into each other on the street and her eagerness to reconnect with her friend makes her overlook a few odd questions about the bar where Donna's band is performing and the other people who are present the night of the show. Jilly later regrets "leaping without looking" but she can be forgiven for carelessly rushing in; her trusting nature is part of what makes her such an endearing character and it is easy to understand why she acts as she does.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away but suffice to say Donna's circumstances have changed dramatically and while she still loves Jilly, she no longer knows her friend as she once did and this leads her to make a rash conclusion of her own. The girls find themselves stuck with some big questions about the best choice for Jilly's future, and as the story flashes back to her recent life in Newford it becomes clear that friendships of all kinds play a big part of Promises to Keep as well as commitments a person must make both to themselves and the people they care about.
It's not easy to change who you have been all your life, and it can be very scary to take on new responsibilities. Jilly finds herself caught between the lure of an easy life and the challenge of hard fought personal victories. What she decides, and how it affects her friendship with Donna, makes this fantasy/coming-of-age story all things good and powerful and a classic peek into the wonder that is Newford.
—Colleen Mondor, Bookslut, Nov. 2007