Charles de Lint,
(Ace, 1988; Tor, 1998)

The ethereal sound of the reed pipes affects everyone who hears the wild music, or sees a vision of the Mystery answering their ancient call. The varied impressions and emotions stimulated by that magic are the foundations of Greenmantle; integral to its storyline are contrasting interpretations of magic, myth, religion and belief, with author Charles de Lint presenting diverse characters who are influenced for better or worse by their reaction to the mystical pipes.

Linking the modern with the mythic is 14-year-old Ali, who delights in exploring the woods around her new home; when she hears the pipes she is drawn by youthful curiosity and uncanny intuition to explore their secret. Her mother Frankie, having used lottery winnings to buy back her family's derelict land and build a home for the two of them, is determined to improve on the unstable existence she had struggled to maintain since fleeing with baby Ali from her abusive drug-dealing husband.

Their nearest neighbour also bears scars from his past. A Mafia enforcer, Tony survived an attempted assassination after being framed for the murder of his boss. The mysterious music causes him to reflect without pride on his former lifestyle, yet recognize that his adherence to the traditional code of honour and loyalty set him apart from those who take wanton pleasure in random violence and murder. Yet despite the peace and anonymity of his rural retreat, he cannot suppress his desire for revenge nor relax his vigilance against the possibility of discovery.

As with all de Lint's novels, there is a realistic mix of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain -- and between good and evil stretches an indeterminate spectrum of weakness and intent. Greenmantle is not pure fantasy, nor is it urban myth. Instead, it bridges the two forms, much as the wildness of the Mystery bridges the otherworld and the one we recognise as reality. The wild music finds a mirror of the soul; confusing and disturbing those who harbour darkness inside, clarifying and guiding those who strive for goodness and light.

In the isolated pagan community of New Wolding, hidden within walking distance of Ali's home, while the village simpleton plays his pipes, fey wisdom is visible in his normally vacant eyes. One local is driven by Tommy's piping to obsessional lust and ultimate insanity, yet in the same music, another finds solace and healing for his troubled spirit. Some see the Mystery as Pan, fanatically pursued by monks seeking to drive the old god from the Christian domain; others see a magnificent wild stag fleeing a relentless pack of slavering hounds. The Mystery is critical to belief within the pagan community and perhaps also to life in the outside world; and in the village, Lewis debates with Mally whether it must be contained or should be permitted to roam further afield. Given the confusion over the essence of the Mystery, a decision whether to interfere at all, to attempt to restrain it or allow it to run free is a deep puzzle with conflicting answers.

The initial wary acquaintance between the Tony and the Treasures is catapulted into genuine friendship and interdependency by the menacing arrival of Earl, the father Ali has never met, a violent ex-con with his own chilling agenda. Suddenly the disparate worlds of the criminal and the magical explosively collide, and the results make for a potent and unpredictable mingling of magic and mafia, faerie and family!

The book is not part of a series; the common thread linking it with de Lint's other works is his successful interweaving of occurrences magical and mundane. At times it is edge-of-my-seat, what-happens-next, I can't read fast enough to keep up with the action! When the pace slows, in the quiet places in-between, I hardly dare breathe in case I miss an explanation or insight. I freely admit that I am a fan of de Lint's work, and also that I do prefer several of his other novels to Greenmantle, but with a magic all its own it insinuates a compulsion to read it time and again, each reading revealing some hitherto unseen facet.

Just like reacting to the sound of the wild pipes, each reader will form their own interpretation; all I can do is offer you mine, and recommend you read and enjoy Greenmantle for yourself.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 19 April 2002

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