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by Charles de Lint



428pp/$15.95/August 2010

The Very Best of Charles de Lint
Cover by Charles Vess

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Charles de Lint has published numerous short story collections during his career, from Hedgework and Guessery to Muse and Reverie, however, this is the first time one of his collections purports to be The Very Best of Charles de Lint.  This is a slightly problematic title because there is so much of de Lint's writing that is fantastic, many of it being in the realm of novels, which could not be included in this volume.  Nevertheless, the publisher had his heart set on producing a book entitled The Very Best of Charles de Lint and de Lint agreed to comply by polling his readers to get their opinions and then adding in some of de Lint's own favorites.  The result is an eminently readable collection that features some of de Lint's best work and serves as an excellent introduction to de Lint's writing, with the caveat that when the book has been closed, the reader should track down the wonderful stories that didn't quite make the cut.

Many of the stories reflect the most common themes of de Lint's writing: the juxtaposition of natural magic and everyday life.  Frequently set in the city of Newford, these are urban fantasy stories without a brooding vampire in sight.  Instead, de Lint's characters are open to the wonders of the world around them, even when they go against everything they thought they knew.  This allows for the strange sight of pixies and computers in "Pixie Pixel" or "That Was Radio Clash," a magical tale of second chances set in a bar to a rock background. 

Reading the stories one after another, the reader is struck by the familiarity of the characters and settings.  De Lint has clearly found a niche for himself, but rather than allow himself to get repetitive, he uses the common themes and tropes found throughout his writing to expand the universe of his characters and his thoughts.  Stories which may appear to be dealing with the same issues turn out to take de Lint's thoughts in different directions, introducing (occasionally disturbing) originality to the comforting familiarity which so much of de Lint's writing encompasses. "In the House of My Enemy," for instance, allows de Lint to look at his frequent heroine, Jilly Coppercorn, and her earlier life as she works to help a fifteen year old pregnant girl.

Not all of de Lint's stories fall safely into the urban fantasy setting of Newford. Into the Green, which later was expanded into a novel, is more of a high fantasy, more akin to de Lint's novel The Little Country than to his Newford stories.  "A Wish Named Arnold" is a fairy tale in the Hans Christian Andersen tradition rather than the type of urban fantasy de Lint generally writes.  These types of stories demonstrate de Lint's versatility as much as his ability to innovate with recurring themes within the same setting.

Of course, one of the problems of titling an anthology "Best of," or especially "Very Best of" is that there will always be someone who feels that some of the author's greatest stories have been left out.  I would have loved to have seen "Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box" included in the anthology (although, in truth, since it is readily available in de Lint's previous anthologies Waifs and Strays and Muse and Reverie, it isn't exactly hard to find), but none of the stories de Lint has elected to include seem out of place.

In Which We Meet Jilly Coppercorn Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery
Coyote Stories In the House of My Enemy
Laughter in the Leaves The Moon Is Drowning While I Sleep
The Badger in the Bag Crow Girls
And the Rafters Were Ringing Birds
Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood Held Safe by Moonlight and Vines
The Stone Drum In the Pines
Timeskip Pixel Pixies
Freewheeling Many Worlds Were Born Tonight
A Wish Named Arnold Sisters
Into the Green Pal o'Mine
The Graceless Child That Was Radio Clash
Winter Was Hard Old Man Crow
The Conjure Man The Fields Beyond the Fields
We Are Dead Together  

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