I’m trying a few different things with my book reviews lately. I’ve purposefully backed off the book tours at the moment (no time, really) and have found myself trolling through more ‘what I need to catch the fuck up on’ book lists. Incidentally, I’ve fallen onto a trend of reading similar books of late, and I found two Charles de Lint books at the bookstore that I wanted to read and hadn’t. De Lint is in the pantheon of my favorite authors, so I bought both. As with Clariel and Uprooted, there are several similar yet completely opposite things about both Into the Green and Wolf Moon.
Ala last time, I’ll talk about my (spoiler) least favorite book first. Into the Green is classical Charles de Lint high fantasy. If you like Eyes Like Leaves, Into the Green is a similar (if slightly inferior) book. Angharad is Summerborn, and the story begins in tragedy when her tinker family (including father, mentor, and husband) all die of the plague. Angharad is the sole survivor, and the fae folk gave her a magic harp, which she names after her dead husband.Angharad is a thrice magical person: tinker, harper, witch. There are several lovely yet unconnected vignettes of Angharad traveling around the country finding and recruiting other Summerborn. The story picks up about half-way through when a the glascow, a box that releases wizard magic that kills the green, is brought to what is effectively fantasy world Dublin, where rich lords take witch fingers for their powers. The story fell apart for me here because two side characters, Tom and Lammond, steal the story completely from Angharad. This happens sometimes with de Lint–the side characters can (and do) end up with the more compelling story lines, which can sap the story of its strength. That’s what happens in this book, which deflated the ending for me. Lammond was an especially unnecessary character, and I never quite got how he fit into everything. And no, not logically fit, but he didn’t seem to be part of this story in the way the other characters did. Also, Tom’s story is tragic, and I wish more of the story would’ve been Tom and Angharad working together and helping mend each other’s lives. Alas, not quite what this story was.
Wolf Moon is classic de Lint. Books like this are why I dig around and keep reading de Lint. Wolf Moon focuses on Kern, a shapeshifter who finds himself hunted by a harper. To save himself, Kern jumps into a churning river and is saved by the fae folk (themes!). When the fae bring Kern to the Tinker (themes!), which is an inn, he finds himself attracted to the innkeeper, Ainsey, and wanting to live among the inn folk. However, the vindictive harper (and ho boy, is he an asshole) follows Kern to the valley where the inn is located. The tension in this story is unreal, and if you’re not a de Lint fan, this would be a decent place to start for his high fantasy books set in other realms. I think the most powerful (for me at least) theme in de Lint’s work is how, even when the world doesn’t understand you and stomps on your sense of worth, that human decency can save the day. In the hands of lesser authors, the ‘decency can save you’ theme would be saccharine, and maybe some people still do find it that way, but good authors can sell this theme and make me feel all the powerful emotions. Wolf Moon is this theme distilled, and every character works in the story, which makes things even worse when one of the dies. Basically, if you’re sold on the misfit family group early on, keep reading.
In high fantasy, there is this ‘sliding scale’ of how you can use a magic system. Agree or disagree with that, de Lint sits solidly on the ‘magic as wonder’ side of story telling. I think this might be why Into the Green didn’t work as well. De Lint isn’t adept at creating the complex magic system that could’ve elevated Into the Green. As a simpler story rooted in myth, Wolf Moon shines because the focus is on the ‘small’ stakes. The real driver is that this insane man effectively had kidnapped an entire family, and that’s where the real terror of Wolf Moon comes from–not magic or shapeshifters. Getting deceived and kidnapped by a charming psychopath. The early vignettes of Into the Green are available in some of de Lint’s short story collections, and they were my favorite parts of the book.
Rating: Into the Green–3 stars. Good short story, ‘meh’ long story
Wolf Moon–5 stars. Loved this story. If you like the characters, it will rip up your insides.