Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint


In the Old Country, they called them the Gentry: ancient spirits of the land, magical, amoral, and dangerous. When the Irish emigrated to North America, some of the Gentry followed only to find that the New World already had spirits of its own, the manitou. Now generations have passed, but the Gentry still wander homeless on the city streets. Gathering in the shadows, they bide their time and dream of power. As their dreams grow harder, darker, fiercer, so do the Gentry themselvesappearing, to those with the sight to see them, as hard and dangerous men, invariably dressed in black. Bettina can see them. Part Indian, part Mexican, she was raised to understand the spirit world. Now she lives in wintry Kellygnow, an artists colony a world away from the Southwestern desert of her youth. Outside her nighttime window, she often spies the dark men, squatting in the snow, smoking, brooding, waiting. She calls them los lobos, the wolves, and stays clear of themuntil the night one follows her to the woods, and takes her hand Once again, Charles de Lint weaves the mythic traditions of many cultures into a seamless cloth, bringing folklore, music, and unforgettable characters to life on modern city streets.
I am embarrassed to admit that I forget about Charles de Lint. I have books by him on my TBR pile and keep my ears open for new releases, but then I forget to tell people that I love him and everyone should read him. How can I forget to do that? I mean, really, everyone should love him and read him. It is as easy as that. Now, I would not suggest reading him in quite the manner that I read him. I apparently have no idea on the order of things and have read this series very out of order. This book is part of the Newford series. It's not a series in a conventional sense, though, because each book technically can stand alone, but there are things at play in the background that you will miss if you haven't read the books in their correct order. Having not read any of the series in the correct order yet, I leave you to figure that out on your own!

I will read high fantasy, as I am sure you have noticed if you read my blog, but once in a while it is really nice to read a plausible fantasy novel. Now, that is not to say that fantasy novels are necessarily farfetched, but if they are high fantasy they are normally set in alternate realities or something along those lines. There is urban fantasy and paranormal fantasy if you want something slightly believable in fantasy, but I am not about to get overly excited about the idea that I could be involved in a zombie invasion. I prefer to leave that in the books. With de Lint's writing, though, bad things do happen... It's just not the same as a crazy werewolf. The stories are based in a lot of folklore and mythology. This one in particular had a lot of native and Irish beliefs mixed into it. That might sound like a strange combination, but de Lint pulled it off. I think I got off-topic somewhere along the lines. I was going to say that I liked Newford because I can picture myself there. Who is to say that what the characters in his books live is not happening around us right now? Those that know are not saying, and those that disbelief are generally the ones that it is not happening to, right? Think about it. I like to, anyways!

The only other adult novel that I have read in this series is The Onion Girl. It is technically later in the series, so I went backwards with this one. Characters are similar between the two, though, so you get a taste of what they were like before they became the characters in the later novel. If you read the books in the right order, though, you will get to The Onion Girl and will add on to what you learned earlier in the series. This is how you read a series. I still need some practice. The way that de Lint chose to write this book, there is not necessarily a main character. Some might argue that it is Bettina, but I think that there are several main characters in the book. The chapters are told from different points of view; which is something I really like about de Lint's novels. He always pulls it off seamlessly!

I have talked a lot in general, but I should probably get around to talking about the book itself. There is a great blend of everything in this book. There is adventure, action, danger, romance, villains, heroines, heroes, disbelievers, believers, double-crossers, musicians, artists, revenge, and so much more. Bettina has been drawn to Newford for a reason that she cannot figure out. Gifted with the ability to heal, it is this skill that will be drawn on eventually. Her grandmother raised her to believe in a world 'outside' our own, but when her grandmother walked out into the desert during a thunderstorm and never returned she stopped practicing what she was taught. She has essentially lost herself and is slowly on the path to reclaiming herself. A little romance thrown into the mix probably doesn't hurt anything, either. During the course of her self-discovery she meets a whole new group of people that will become part of her story.

My favourite character was probably Ellie. She is a sculptor whose friends believe in a fairy tale land, but she is a disbeliever. It turns out, though, that she is not all that she appears. There is a great deal of magic in her that will become very essential to the events of the novel. One of her closest friends will make some difficult decisions that have serious reprucussions and she will find herself caught up in the middle of them. My other favourite character was Miki. She works in a music store, but she is also a gifted musician. She is a bit of free-spirit. You cannot help by love her by the time the book is over. There is also her boss, Hunter, who gets caught up in all of this quite accidentally. It turns out that being a nice guy does not always work out so well for you! (Well, it seems that way, anyways.) Add in the Creek sisters and Tommy and you have a fantastic cast of characters. I didn't hate any of them. There is also Bettina's wolf, but we are not really sure what to make of him for most of the novel. He gets some blood pumping, though.

Then, there are the forces of evil. In this case they are the Gentry. We meet them very early in the book, but we don't really get to know what they are until a lot of pages have gone by. They are interesting characters, but I couldn't help thinking of Lord of the Rings. It really makes no sense, but that's okay. It makes sense in my mind! They bring with them even more characters, though, but I don't really want to spoil too much of the novel. Really, there is just so many people and things going on that it is really hard to talk about everything. It's actually a very complex book when you think about it. By the end of it, you have really got to know the characters. I liked that. It doesn't take away from the story, either, which is nice. It was a really good story!

So, overall this was another great de Lint novel. I liked The Onion Girl better, but not by a lot. I look forward to more de Lint in the future. (I am going back and starting from the beginning!) On another note, don't the covers to de Lint's books look fantastic? He has a great cover artist!

12 comments:

  1. I haven't read anything by Charles de Lint. Yet. Where should I start, do you think? With this series? You sure make it sound good, Kelly!

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  2. I think this is one of my favourite de Lint's; it's intricate and delicate and yet much deeper than it first appears. I really liked Bettina -- for me, she's the most memorable character of the group. It's been a couple of years since I re-read this.

    To throw in my 2 cents about where to start, I would suggest Dreams Underfoot, which is a collection of short stories, is probably best. I still think it contains some of his best writing.

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  3. The only de Lint book I've read is DINGO. I liked that one. This one sounds good too!

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  4. I still have yet to read de Lint, though I have two of his books now. Hopefully I'll get round to them later this year!

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  5. I brought home Waifs & Strays to read over the summer. Haven't done it yet but after reading your awesome words I hope to get to it before school starts back up!

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  6. I *adore* Charles de Lint, and I concur -- start with Dreams Underfoot. Memory and Dream is also a good one to start with. I have this one sitting in my TBR pile... I will definitely have to move it to the top of the list!

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  7. You know, I have sort of forgotten about him too! I loved the first short story collection I read, but The Onion Girl confused me. I know that if I go back and try to read the books in order I'll love them, though.

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  8. You are correct, everyone should like de Lint! I don't really worry about the order of his books either. I read Widdershins, the sequel to Onion Girl, as my first ever de Lint book and I didn't feel like I missed anything or it affected my full on love for the story. It was fantastic, and although I've read and enjoyed other de Lint books since, it remains my favorite.

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  9. I have had this on my TBR shelf for a year now! Ever since Chris (I think it was him) reviewed it....I've read most of Charles de Lint, as you know, but this is one I missed. After reading your excellent review, I'm thinking i should perhaps make it very soon that I read it!! :-D

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  10. How could you forget about CDL??? he is awesome! I am slowly reading all his books but I don't think I am reading them in the right order either. I loved The Onion Girl and Waifs and Strays which is a collection spanning his career of short stories. You should definitely read it if you haven't yet.

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  11. I've never heard of this author!! The book you've described sounds wonderful and I'll have to look for books by him.

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  12. I adore de Lint's novels and short stories, whatever he writes! You've made me want to reread this one. Great review!

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