Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trader (Urban Fantasy)

Imagine that you are Max Trader, a world renowned luthier, a maker of string instruments. A "Trader" is something that musicians dream of owning. Then, imagine one day waking up in the body of a stranger, someone loathed. Soon you are homeless. You are friendless and without the trade that you have loved and thrived in all your life. Now what do you do? This is the premise behind Trader, another book in Charles de Lint’s Newford series.

In Trader we also meet Nia, the teenager daughter of a single mother. Max Trader has become her confidant. She is the first person to realize that there is someone else in Max’s body. Then, she sees her mother kissing a woman. Has the world turned into a dangerous place filled with body snatchers? The only thing she can think of doing is to run away from home.

Trader is a novel with a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Max and Nia and many of the others characters in the story. Trader is also thoughtful and thought provoking. Is Max totally a victim or does he bear some responsibility for what happened to him? How does a physical body affect the consciousness that inhabits it? And, as Nia asks: “What were you supposed to do when your world came to an end, when there was nothing you could count on anymore? What was the point of even trying to go on?”

The novel isn’t perfect. I found one of the minor subplots flat and cliché. Also, if the novel had been written post-economic crash, I would have been frustrated with the ending, wanting the same overall feeling but a little different outcome. While the story is for the most part timeless and relevant, in a small way we have emotionally changed since 1997.

I found Trader comforting, like having a nice conversation with a friend. The story is enjoyable and interesting. I like the world de Lint creates in the Newford series. He doesn’t come back to the same protagonists, though Jilly does play an important part in the plotline of Trader. In that it differs from my other favorite series. I remember first discovering the Bryant and May series and not wanting to stop reading the books until I ran out of them. So far, I feel the same way about the Newford series.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dreams Underfoot (Urban Fantasy)

Where or where have I been? When I found Dreams Underfoot, a book in the Newford Series by Charles de Lint, at my local library, I felt like someone who found out that their new best friend had been living only a few blocks away most of their life. The book is over two decades old. (If I had discovered the series earlier, I could have avoided reading a lot of bad fiction.) The book is the exact style that I have a hard time putting down. The fantasy is fresh. Even familiar plotlines are presented with new twists. The characters are sympathetic and three dimensional. De Lint dares to take on some difficult subjects.

Dreams Underfoot is a series of short stories which take place in the city of Newford. Magic can be found for those who believe and are willing to experience it. A number of the stories take on the subject of child and sexual abuse. Some of the stories have happy ending; other do not. At least one is a horror story. While many of the same characters are woven into the stories, only one story requires a direct knowledge of a previous one.

Dreams Underfoot contains good storytelling. The fantasy element never becomes distracting or silly. Rather, it enriches the plot. Let’s see whether the other books in the series are just as good.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Memory and Dream (Urban Fantasy)

Art. Mentors. Magic. Being Real. Physical Abuse. Emotional Abuse. Friends. Love. Community. Having a Purpose. Identity. Suicide. Success. Justification of Physical Violence. Power. Control. Acceptance of Different Realities.

Over the last few years I have come to believe more and more that science and religion have failed us. The only real hope for the long term survival of the human race –and for many individuals—is art. I have been in such a deep, deep depression recently that there is no way that I can critique Charles de Lint’s novel Memory & Dreams. I’m not sure whether it is a good or mediocre book. I’m not sure whether I would recommend it. Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether I enjoyed it. What I do know is that in this second book that I have read of De Lint's I continue to admire his commitment to take on tough subjects. I am fascinated that he chose an urban fantasy format to tell this story. The story could have just as easily been told as a science fiction story with parallel universes or a supernatural detective story. Instead he chose to wrap the story around the lives of artists. My depression compromised intellect also knows that there are layers of meaning to this story, I just can’t follow them right now.

The main character in Memory and Dream is Izzy/Isabel, an artist. She is flattered when a renowned artist, Rushkin, discovers her and takes her on as his protégée. His mentoring helps her become an accomplished artist. Right from the beginning of their relationship, we learn that he is controlling. As the story progresses, we learn that he is emotionally and physically abusive. Yet, the abuses are just the overt aspects of his darkness. As Izzy learns more and more from Rushkin, she acquires the ability to create painting that bring numena over from the “before.” Are numena creatures that Izzy has created or are they independent beings for which Izzy has provided a doorway?

The story takes place in two general time periods: roughly, Izzy’s early years as an artist and the present when her friend Alan is trying to convince her to illustrate a volume of Kathy’s stories. Kathy was Izzy’s close friend who died. Why does Isabel insist that Kathy died of cancer when Alan know that Kathy killed herself? Who set that fire that destroyed all of Izzy’s most cherished paintings? The destruction of the paintings killed Izzy’s numenas, who were like children to her, and caused her to withdraw from the world. What is the true nature of Rushkin’s relationship to Izzy? How will Izzy’s friendships be affected when the truth about the paintings is known? Can Izzy/Isabel survive the truth about her past?

Memory and Dreams is an early book in Charles de Lint’s Newport series. Having the same setting and some familiar characters as the earlier book of short stories gave me a sense of “coming home” when I read this book. While the characters from the earlier book take on minor roles, it is nice to see them again. Even if I wanted to, I think it would be very hard to get ahold of all the books in the series. Unlike some of my other favorite series, it doesn’t appear to matter. The punchline is that Newport is filled with magic for those willing to see it, period.

Despite my surface level ambivalence about Memory and Dream, part of me positively responded to the book. I want to read more, not necessarily because I’m drawn to the magic, but because I’m drawn to the universal messages clothed in the magic. Like the numena in Memory and Dreams, I don’t think any of us really understands what it is to be real, but we have to try our darndest to live it.