Saturday, September 02, 2006

Review: Widdershins

For those of you who aren't familiar with Charles de Lint, he is a mythic realism pioneer. (Mythic Realism may be the older sister of Urban Fantasy, with the fantastical elements often being drawn from various mythologies instead of the paranormal.) His stories are well-plotted, beautifully-written and character-driven. The Newford Stories is a collection of his many short-stories all set in the fictional North American city of Newford.

The Onion Girl, his first Newford novel told the backstory of Jilly Coppercorn, painter and well-acquainted with the spirit world. Widdershins isn't so much a sequel as it is a follow-up.

" Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell. Since they were introduced in the first Newford story, Timeskip, back in 1989, their friends and readers alike have been waiting for them to realize what everybody else already knows: that they belong together. But they've been more clueless about how they feel for each other than the characters in When Harry Met Sally. Now in Widdershins, a stand-alone novel of fairy courts set in shopping malls and the Bohemian street scene of Newford's Crowsea area, Jilly and Geordie's story is finally being told.

Before it's over, we'll find ourselves plunged into the rancorous and sometimes violent conflict between the magical North American "animal people" and the more newly-arrived fairy folk. We'll watch as Jilly is held captive in a sinister world based on her own worst memories—and Geordie, attempting to help, is sent someplace even worse. And we'll be captivated by the power of love and determination to redeem ancient hatreds and heal old magics gone sour.

To walk "widdershins" is to walk counterclockwise or backwards around something. It's a classic pathway into the fairy realm. It's also the way people often back slowly into the relationships that matter, the real ones that make for a life. In Widdershins Charles de Lint has delivered one of his most accessible and moving works of his career. " (source: Widdershins book jacket (hardcover edition,) © Tor Books & Charles de Lint, 2006.)

What I love about de Lint is the way that he weaves all of his storylines together, so that each separate story is revealed to be a thread in the larger tapestry. I also adore how he mixes first and third person POV as he tells the story from multiple perspectives. The man is a master of his craft.

Despite that Widdershins depends largely on The Onion Girl for the majority of Jilly's plotline, I think a new reader could join the de Lint world with this book without a great deal of confusion. There's certainly enough new material that the book stands on its own and doesn't read like "part 2 of 2."

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Jilly Coppercorn. While she's an amazingly well-crafted and written character, Jilly was the victim of sexual abuse from her older brother as a child, and that lends a darkness to her plot threads that is a little too black for me.

If you read this book or The Onion Girl, you need to be prepared to go horrible places that have nothing to do with the spirit world—to the dark places within humanity.

Things that happen to Jilly made me very uncomfortable during certain scenes. Since it takes a great deal of skill to inspire that "I'm not certain I can keep reading, I really want to know what happens" feeling in readers, I applaud de Lint for the accomplishment. At the same time, I'd rather not venture to those places on a regular basis. One begins to worry that maybe one won't find her way back.

I prefer Christiana Tree, who was introduced in Spirits in the Wires, and Lizze, the new viewpoint character who's much closer in age to me. These are two of de Lint's best characters. The other would be Galfreya, the fey who holds court after-hours in a shopping mall. de Lint has packed Widdershins with fantastically well-conceived reinventions of the fairy folk in modern times. Oh, and the Crow Girls play a bigger role in this than the other two novels. (Who doesn't love the Crow Girls?)

Put a de Lint book on your reading list—if you're not certain Widdershins is where you want to start, then I highly recommend Spirits in the Wires. It's brilliant, it's modern, and it's the best use of the internet in a fantasy novel that I've come across. (Plus, it's low on Jilly Coppercorn drama.)

The Onion Girl: B
Spirits in the Wires: A+
Widdershins: A

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