Nina Kiriki Hoffman,
The Silent Strength of Stones
(Avon, 1995)

Nick is a fairly typical teenager in a remote, forested area populated mostly by the tourists who summer there. His father is a little restrictive and domineering, his grandfather is barely aware of things around him and his mother abandoned them all years ago. Bored and trapped by circumstances, Nick amuses himself by observing human behavior -- or, as some would call it, spying on tourists. He's no voyeur, though -- he tries to avoid watching anyone too intimately engaged -- but his secret rounds afford him most of his pleasure in life.

Then he meets Willow, who seems completely unlike the usual girls who summer in Nick's woods. Her family, too -- an aunt, two uncles, a few cousins and ... a wolf? -- are unusual, even invisible to some.

One day Nick sees more than he should. He learns more than he should know, more than Willow's family would be comfortable with him knowing. But Willow likes him, the wolf (Evan?) seems to have adopted him and he has inadvertently shared salt with a young cousin. Meanwhile, Nick's connection to certain rocks and even the unusually warm lake is changing, growing.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a new discovery for me, and one long overdue. The Silent Strength of Stones is an excellent introduction to her writing, which -- like contemporaries Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Terri Windling, etc. -- crafts a highly developed fantasy world within the framework of a thoroughly modern, very real society. Her characters are finely drawn and wholly believable in this setting, and the story resolves neatly while still leaving ample room for a sequel. (I'll be checking to see if one exists, and I'll be disappointed if one does not!)

Hoffman is an exciting writer -- I can't remember the last time I found one who intrigued me this much!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 23 August 2003

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