Charles de Lint,
The Mystery of Grace
(Tor, 2009)

One enters a Charles de Lint novel with the fair certainty that the unexpected will occur. And yet, even with that foreknowledge, I was caught completely off guard when Altagracia, the title character of The Mystery of Grace, was -- well, no, I shouldn't tell you that.

Granted, it happens only a handful of pages into the novel, so it can hardly be considered a climactic moment. And yet it is so startling, so completely unprojected, that I would truly hate to take that moment of surprise, that involuntary gasp of disbelief, from even a single reader.

So, allow me to dance lightly around the revealing turn of events and focus more obliquely on the characters and plot.

De Lint, after an extended stay in his fictional city of Newford and a minor detour into the world of young-adult fiction, returns to his usual, more adult brand of storytelling with Grace. Unlike Newford, which may be in Canada and could be in the United States, Solona -- a subdivision of Santo del Vado Viejo -- is set solidly within the American Southwest. And, unlike Newford, Solona isn't a mystical nexus bursting at the seams with acute mysteries, tangible legends and a population largely ready to accept and believe in any strange thing that comes down the pike; these folks are more like you and me, and they don't stand with one foot in a fantasy realm.

But that doesn't mean the strange and magical doesn't exist. For Grace, it comes hard on the heels of a life-altering moment -- and the true-love moment she experiences just a few weeks later could be hopelessly compromised by her new situation.

The residents of Solona -- Grace, John, Conchita, Nina, Norm, Shorty, Abigail and a quite a few more -- aren't as richly or deeply developed as some of de Lint's Newford regulars. And the city itself remains something of an unknown quantity. Only time will tell if this, like Newford and Ottawa before that, will be more fully explored in de Lint's writing.

What sells me on this book is the way Grace herself unfolds before us, with elements of her character and her changing perspectives becoming as familiar as a new friend. The Mystery of Grace is not as overtly magical as de Lint's previous work, but it reveals a depth of philosophy and introspection that has been present only in his more recent stories. Readers will be hard pressed not to examine their own beliefs right along with Grace -- and, while de Lint doesn't provide any major theological resolutions here, he surely makes the journey enjoyable and leaves you with a few new ideas to ponder.

The Mystery of Grace is a solid new direction in de Lint's growing world of wonder.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

4 July 2009

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