Monday, January 05, 2009

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

I've been familiar with the name of author Charles de Lint for a number of years, but I've never really got around to reading his books. I read Moonheart many years ago and remember being very impressed with it (to the point I bought the audiobook from Audible last year and hope to get to listen to it this year), but I never read anything else.

de Lint writes urban fantasy. Somehow, in the years between the late 80s/early 90s when people like de Lint and Emma Bull and were writing it and now, the designation of urban fantasy has developed two fairly disparate meanings. "Old school" urban fantasy of the kind de Lint writes tend to involve the instrustion of some form of "faerie" into a modern, often a least slightly decaying, urban setting. Art and music are often important to the characters and the tale. More current urban fantasy is more likely to involve an up-to-date urban setting that includes fantastical creatures such as werewolves and vampires, and novels often crossover with paranormals and paranormal romance to some degree. The lines between the two are blurred, but the tone of each tends to be quite different and I do think they can be counted as separate styles (all in my opinion of course).

While de Lint has written a wide variety of books (I hadn't realised just how many until I went exploring his website), a significant number are set in his imaginary city of Newford, where strange things live in the underground Old City, mystical beings walk the streets and magic is just around the corner, waiting for you to believe in it to see it. Several of the later Newford books have caught my eye in the past, but being kind of anal about reading series in order and never knowing where to start, I stayed away from the books. I can't remember what it was that recently sent me to de Lint's site, but there in the FAQ I found his recommended reading order for the Newford books. That was what I needed to give me a push into reading them.

I was getting around to putting Dreams Underfoot on reserve from the library when I discovered it as an ebook on fictionwise. That bumped it to the top of my reading pile and it was the last book I started in 2008. This is a collection of short stories - most gathered from previous publications and two new to the collection - that introduce the reader to Newford and some of the major characters that people later books and stories.

I generally don't find short stories easy to read, but I read my way steadily through these tales, each time I finished one moving on the to the next, not ready to leave Newford and it's strange and delightful inhabitants behind. These are not light tales, magic has a dark side, and discovering it exists tend to change a person's life forever (in fact, in one of my favourite stories, Ghosts of Wind and Shadow, we see the devastating effect this had on one character who refuses to accept the magic that touches her life). Happy endings are rare, and instead we get ones that feel true to the tales and tend to be bittersweet but satisfying. Indeed, in one story the "prince" totally fails to recognise the "princess" and fails her totally. She is doomed and he remains a loner of a man, unable to interact properly with other people. Not all the tales end this badly, but they aren't bows and bunnies either. All the same, they are wonderful to read.

I highly recommend this book and I'm looking forward to reading my way through the series now that I know what order I'm supposed to read them in. I also find myself looking forward all the more to listening to Moonheart (not a Newford story).

Just one word of caution. If you do read the ebook, I found it to have a number of typographical errors. Small words were often missing (strangely, most often "a") and sometimes I had to read a sentence twice to pick up that something was wrong and work out the intended meaning. I don't know if this problem occurs in the print book, but be aware of the ebook anyway.

Dreams Underfoot
Charles de Lint
Newford Novels, Book 1

1 comment:

lilly said...

I like De Lint. I have read two of his books and I put two other titles on my challenges this year.