Charles de Lint,
Someplace to Be Flying
(Tor, 1998)

We are our stories. But more that, our stories are inextricably intertwined, knotted, woven and spliced into the stories of those around us and then into a larger story. This is what Charles de Lint reminds us in Someplace to be Flying, one of his richest and most complex novels to date.

Hank Walker meets Lily Carson under less than auspicious circumstances -- he jumps out of his gypsy cab when he sees someone attacking her, only to be seriously injured himself. They are rescued by what appears to be two raggedy teen-aged girls, who literally seem to drop out of nowhere. The girls dispatch the attacker, heal Hank's and Lily's injuries, and vanish.

Lily, a photojournalist, realizes that the girls must be two of the "animal people" she had been seeking. Hank is not surprised -- he has heard his friend Jack Daw tell stories about the animal people for years. These are the First People, the ones who have been around since the beginning of the world and who are both people and animals. Some are corbae (crows, ravens, magpies and jays) while others are canidae (foxes, coyotes and so on). There are other families, but the corbae and the canidae are the main groups being considered here. There is another group important to the story -- the Cuckoo people, who are evil and amoral and who hate everyone else, but particularly the corbae.

Lily has also heard Jack's stories, but this is not the only connection she and Hank will share. In no time at all, they and their friends are caught up in a struggle among the First People who are starting to pull together and act out their stories. Raven has lost his cauldron, and both Coyote (Cody) and the Cuckoos (represented as the Couteau family) are looking for it. Cody wants to return the world to the way it was at the beginning time, while the Couteaus seek revenge against the corbae, particularly the powerful ones such as Raven, the Crow Girls and Jack Daw.

The novel reads like a tapestry of words with the different stories serving as the threads that weave together to produce the whole pattern. The narrative is rich and thoughtful, transforming the reader as it quietly engages him or her. De Lint employs folkloric elements while at the same time making them part of Newford's own lore. The characters are people anyone would want to know -- or, as in the case of the Cuckoo people, avoid. De Lint has a flair for delineating the characters with just the right amount of detail, creating a vivid image in the reader's mind while leaving room for the imagination to take over.

It can't be denied that Maida and Zia, the irrepressible Crow Girls, are particularly appealing and original characters. When they have to, they can be serious -- deadly serious -- but for the most part, they are playful and inquisitive, fond of pretty shiny things, sugar and playing tricks on people. In short, they're just plain fun, and they'll make you long for sleek black wings of your own. Veryvery much so.

One of the most important elements of this novel is the thread of hope that runs through the story. De Lint pulls no punches -- characters face the consequences of their actions, pain and sacrifice -- but he never relinquishes that hold on hope.

This is a powerful story about the power of story, intensely moving and gripping. It is nearly impossible to read it without being changed in some subtle and important way, with a deeper inner recognition of our own stories and where they connect to each other.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 28 June 1999

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