Charles de Lint,
Moonlight & Vines
(Tor, 1999)

Although the opening poem and a few of the twenty-one short stories in Moonlight & Vines are original to the collection, most of the stores were first published elsewhere. They all fit together, though, and not only because they are set in Newford, writer Charles de Lint's mythical, magical city. A number of themes run through the stories, unifying the parts into a whole. Crows, dreams, life, death, fiddle music and magic fill the pages, reinforcing the stories rather than being repetitive.

De Lint writes about being open to possibilities and how that makes one open to the transforming magic that is all around. In de Lint's world, beauty and strength flourish in grim and sordid surroundings, help comes from unexpected sources, and stories connect unlikely characters. Readers of de Lint's books will encounter familiar characters, from the frequently appearing Jilly Coppercorn and fiddler Geordie Riddell to more obscure characters, such as Ash Enys of The Dreaming Place.

De Lint has a remarkable talent for getting inside a character's skin; his own voice and thought processes don't intrude into the characters, and he portrays women exceptionally well. He also has a flair for finding things with which the reader can identify, something as as simple as a childhood memory or a secret dream or feeling. These serve to widen the range of possibilities.

The opening poem "Sweetgrass & City Streets" sets the stage, hinting at what hides beneath the surface in an ordinary looking city filled with ordinary looking people. "Saskia" and "The Fields Beyond the Fields" are both narrated by Christy Riddell, and the stories bracket the rest of the collection with their quiet, thoughtful consideration of faith in love, magic and mystery. One sees Christy undergo transformations and more beyond the fears and doubts which hamper his heart.

Five of the stories are primarily explorations of death and what may or may not lie beyond. "In This Soul of a Woman" isn't so much about one character's impending death as it is about how one chooses to live. In "The Big Sky," John Tarraway discovers that it is never too late to find a purpose for being. Singer Darlene Flatt gets an unexpected visitor and an opportunity to take a measure of her dreams in "In the Pines," while a woman afraid of dying fights her dreams in "Shining Nowhere But the Dark." "China Doll" matches an unlikely pair who have mutual unfinished business before they can move on.

De Lint reminds us of how important it is to pay attention not only to our own dreams but to the dreams of others in "Held Safe by Moonlight & Vines." "Heartfires" is about how crucial story is to identity, healing and survival, as is "Seven for a Secret." "In the Land of the Unforgiven" is a grim, gritty story which redefines justice and retribution.

The remaining stories -- "Birds," "Passing," "The Invisibles," "Crow Girls," "Wild Horses," "My Life As a Bird," "In the Quiet After Midnight," "The Pennymen" and "Twa Corbies" -- are each about a character's coming into contact with a magical possibility of some kind, and how each character responds. Each story is fresh and unique, as if looking at the same idea through a well cut, multi-faceted prism.

This is a book meant to be savored. If you can, give yourself some time to digest and appreciate each story. De Lint is a master storyteller with a brilliant command of narrative and dialogue, and each story is worthy of careful consideration and contemplation.

While readers familiar with Newford might experience greater appreciation of some of the details, this collection would be perfectly accessible to a newcomer to de Lint's writing. So get yourself a copy, find a comfortable chair, unplug the phone and open yourself up to the possibilities within the covers.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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