by Charles de Lint



448pp/$27.95/August 2003

Spirits in the Wires
Cover by John Jude Palencar

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The latest in Charles de Lint’s Newford novels, Spirits in the Wires, returns to the Wordwood, an internet site de Lint first explored in the short story “Saskia” which immediately showed signs of becoming a powerful force in his mythic world.  In this work, the godlike Wordwood is set upon by a malicious virus set upon it by a blackmailed computer programmer and a vindictive book reviewer, Aaran Goldstein..

In his recent novel The Onion Girl, de Lint’s protagonist was the pivotal, but seldom featured Jilly Coppercorn, the equally pivotal, and equally background character Christy Riddell.  Of course, little in one of de Lint’s novels is as it appears, and Christy also makes an appearance as Christiana Tree, a shadowy figure made up of those parts of Christy’s personality which he felt were unnecessary and he cast off when he was seven.  In the years since, Christy has been only vaguely aware of his, to him, nameless shadow, while Christiana went on to develop a life of her own.

In addition to the familiar characters, de Lint introduces new ones as well, most notably the aforementioned book reviewer, Aaran, and the strange street person he befriends, Suzi.  Their relationship forms a central part of the novel, although for much of it it does not appear to make a whole lot of sense.  De Lint does explain Suzi’s presence and, perhaps, Aaran’s attraction to her, as the novel progresses.

In fact, certain aspects of the novel eventually take on the feel of predeterminism, notably when de Lint reveals more of Suzi’s background and explains why she makes the various other characters feel uncomfortable and lack trust in her.  However, this is predeterminism as a force on the universe, not as simply an unwieldy form of literary dues ex machina. 

The internet, as well as computers generally, are portrayed as a technophobe’s nightmare in Spirits in the Wire, building on their portrayal in other de Lint stories, some of which, such as “Saskia” and “Pixel Pixies” form the background of Spirits in the Wires.  Nevertheless, de Lint does not allow them to be completely mysterious.  While his primary characters may not have an understanding of computers, they have friends who have the skills and knowledge that they need and are able to call upon them for help.

If the novel and relationships between the various characters tie up a little too neatly, it is a frequent fault of de Lint’s work, but does not detract from the quality of the novel.  At the same time, de Lint only hints at the direction several of those relationships are going, and frequently, as is the case for Christy’s brother, Geordie, or bookseller Holly Rue, their stories may well provide a springboard for future stories or novels.

De Lint is a strong story teller and has found his niche and his style.  While his novels do not often surprise, they never disappoint.  The reader knows, in general terms what a de Lint novel will deliver, and can take pleasure is finding out how de Lint will transport the reader and characters through magical realms which touch upon our own.

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