Charles de Lint, Wolf Moon
(Signet, 1988; Puffin, 2004)

In fantasy, there are plenty of stories which pit a lone, heroic minstrel -- sometimes with some bit of magic about him, at others with only his wits and music -- against some dark, evil monster.

Trust Charles de Lint to put a new spin on an old theme. In Wolf Moon, one of de Lint's earlier novels and a rare excursion for him into high fantasy, the harper Tuiloch is the black-hearted evil. The hero of the tale, the lonely wanderer Kern, is a werewolf.

The novel begins with a chase. Kern, in wolf shape, is being pursued by a soulless thing of magic, a feragh formed of Tuiloch's music and will. At present, the harper is hunting the wolf merely for the pleasure of the hunt and kill. But when he later meets Kern in man-shape, he realizes the truth and sets out to bring Kern's world down around him, destroying his spirit and killing his joys before eventually taking his life.

For Kern has found happiness at the Yellow Tinker, a remote inn where a small, tightly knit group of family and friends -- ignorant of Kern's secret nature -- has welcomed the loner with open arms and hearts.

So it is there Tuiloch works his magic, clouding their minds and bending their wills against Kern, whom the harper exposes as a werewolf in the aftermath of shocking carnage. Soon, Kern is on the run, friendless again, but still Tuiloch uses the inn's circle of friends as a lever to keep the wolf from fleeing too far.

Often, writers will give their villains some nameless victims on whom to demonstrate their evil. De Lint initially does the same, introducing a remote farmer only to make him an immediate victim of the harper's violence, a senseless murder blamed on the werewolf. But de Lint isn't content to rely solely on such timeworn cliches, instead turning the harper's violent nature against the inn and its inhabitants, leaving shocking death and rape in its wake. Suddenly the story is that much more real -- the characters we've come to know and like in earlier pages can be hurt, after all. They aren't protected by the author's decree that everything will turn out OK. At the same time, the violence is never depicted graphically or -- beyond the context of the tale -- senselessly. Like a minstrel himself, de Lint knows just how much discord to introduce to the tune to add tension without spoiling the melody.

Wolf Moon doesn't have a fraction of the emotional depth and realism of de Lint's later works, and it's certain that his greatest talent lies in the contemporary fantasy genre. But this early tale is a prose ballad with lyrical grace, and readers will gladly pass their time by the fire as the harper strums landscapes and characters from his strings and spins the tale.

by Tom Knapp

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