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August 2004
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
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Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

The Book of Dreams, by O. R. Melling,
Penguin Canada, 2003, Cdn $22.

O. R. Melling's latest novel is a sequel to the three books that were collected in 2002's wonderful omnibus The Chronicles of Faerie:

  • The Hunter's Moon, set in Ireland, in which Gwen Woods has to rescue her cousin Findabhair from the King of the Faeries;
  • The Summer King, in which Laurel Blackburn, still dealing with the death of her twin Honor, comes to Ireland, where she discovers that her sister might still be alive, only in another world;
  • And The Light-Bearer's Daughter, in which Dana Faolan, hurt by her father's decision to move them to Canada, takes off into the fairy mountains to look for her long-lost mother.

The new novel, set in Canada, continues Dana's story, and while characters from all the books show up, we are introduced to a whole new cast as well, easily as varied and fascinating.

At this point I want to emphasize that while, as in most series that feature an ongoing cast of characters, familiarity with the previous books will certainly enrich the reading of this new book, that familiarity is in no way essential to appreciate The Book of Dreams. Melling does a great job of introducing the repeat visitors and their backgrounds without ever bogging down the current storyline.

And what a joyful storyline it is, though when I say joyful, I don't mean that it's saccharine. Bad things happen to good people, and there's certainly tension. Dealing with Faerie requires sacrifice, and some of the characters pay dearly. What I mean is that there isn't an underlying meanness to the book, something I find increasingly evident in novels that are marketed as fantasy, but are in reality simply military books disguised as such.

A war is unfolding in The Book of Dreams, and there are skirmishes and battles, but the focus is on the characters, not just the struggle, and the magic is wild and unpredictable, full of wonder, instead of being presented to us as weaponry schematics.

As the book opens, Dana is still upset about her father's having moved the family from Ireland to magic-less Canada. But being part faerie, she does have access to her mother and the otherworld until, one day, all the gates to Faery are sealed and even that is taken away. It's at that point that the task is put before her to find the Book of Dreams and reopen the gates, and it's also where the fun begins.

Dana's quest takes her throughout Canada, from the East Coast to the West and up into the far north, along the way gaining her new friends, allies, and enemies. Anyone interested in the mythology of North America, particularly that of Canada, will find it a fascinating trip. In Melling's capable hands Inuit and French Canadian folklore comfortably rub shoulders with Chinese dragon lore and the fairies of Ireland.

This is Melling's most mature novel, showing a real growth in her already formidable ability to get under the skins of her characters and to craft prose that both sings and carries the story forward without pretension.

Highly recommended. And if you can't find it in your local bookstore, try some of the online Canadian booksellers.

*     *     *

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 4: The Ironwood Tree, by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black,
Simon & Schuster, 2004, $9.95.

And speaking of series books, in the case of the latest in the Spiderwick Chronicles, you'll definitely want to read the others first since this is basically one story being doled out to us in six parts.

In this installment, Mallory has disappeared and it's up to her younger twin brothers, Jared and Simon, to rescue her. In terms of story, Black does her usual first-rate job of keeping things moving at a good pace, leavening the proceedings with equal parts whimsy and darkness. But what I found myself enjoying mostly this time out was the repercussions the Grace children's fairy adventures have in their real life, such as when Jared uses his pen knife (with its iron in the blade) to ward off a nasty fairy, only to then get in trouble for pulling a knife on what appears to be just another kid in the school halls.

There isn't time to follow up on that in this installment, but I'm sure Black will next time out and I'm eager to see how she reconciles the issue since nobody but the Grace children appear to actually see the fairy folk for what they are.

Reading this from a galley, I got a special kick out of seeing DiTerlizzi's unfinished sketches that were used in lieu of finished art (because, one presumes, he was still working on the art when this galley went to press). I won't say I like the sketches more than the finished work, but I certainly appreciate his art more now, seeing the energetic pencilwork from which it grows.

*     *     *

The Chesley Awards, by John Grant & Elizabeth Humphrey,
Artist's and Photographer's Press Ltd., 2003, $45.

Considering the steady stream of anthologies centering around the winners and nominees of the Nebula Awards that we've seen over the years, it's nice to finally have a collection of work from their artistic counterparts, the winners of the Chesley Awards.

The awards were founded in 1985, named in honor of Chesley Bonestell, and the book presents us with the winning art and samples of work by the recipients of the Artistic Achievement Award for each year through to 2002.

Beyond the appreciation of artistic skill and design work showcased here, readers will also enjoy what amounts to a walk down memory lane as they get to revisit the cover art of some of their favorite books from the past few years, with many of those titles now considered classics in the field.

Along with the authoritative text of the editors, we're also given artists' bios and their personal comments on most of the art presented in these pages.

*     *     *

The Lost Girls, by Laurie Fox,
Simon & Schuster, 2004, $23.

My first thought as I started this book was, why hadn't anyone done some variation on this before? Perhaps they have and I just missed it, but it strikes me that in the almost hundred years since the story of Peter Pan and Wendy first appeared, someone would have wanted to tell what happened to Jane, and even Wendy herself in the after years of the Big Adventure.

Well, now someone has. Laurie Fox gives us not only Jane's story, but the stories of five generations of Darling women, from the original Wendy to her great-great-granddaughter Berry.

The Lost Girls is narrated by Berry's mother, also named Wendy. This second Wendy came late to the fairy tale that rules the lives of the Darling women. She was thirteen when the Boy came to take her to Neverland and had already lived through her parents' divorce, her mother's bohemian take on the world, and being ignored by a father who, like many of the men drawn to the Darling women, never grew up.

Wendy is particularly hurt by the Boy's broken promise to return, spending much of her life trying to come to grips with the confusing question of whether or not she, and the other Darling women, have truly had this extraordinary experience of flying to Neverland, or if they're not all a little mad the way the medical community perceives them to be. Her way of coping is to lose herself in the writing of children's stories and to marry her own child-man, a musician who appears to carry in him equal parts of the Boy and Wendy's distant father.

When she has a daughter of her own, added to the confusion is why, with all the love and support she gives Berry, does her daughter instead embrace a self-destructive, unhappy life for herself?

Fox does an admirable job in showing how all these different women—and in the case of Berry, a teenager—deal with the Pan myth. She weaves J. M. Barrie's version into updated variations of her own to create a pocket world where they all fit snugly together. At times fascinating, at times infuriating (by which I mean in how some of the characters react and cope), The Lost Girls is the book I've been waiting to read since I first encountered Peter Pan. I just didn't know it.

And if you're a little rusty on the classic itself and want to brush up on it, I'd like to recommend a new version published last year as part of Tor Books' Starscape line. The words are the same as they are in every edition, but this one also sports a delightful abundance of art by Charles Vess. It's a book, he tells me, he's always wanted to illustrate, and that shows in every piece of the art that he's done for it.

*     *     *

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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