Charles de Lint, The Harp of the Grey Rose (Subterranean Press, 2006)

Come in -- get out of the nasty weather we're having right now. Put your coat and boots over by the fireplace so they can dry out. And I'll have the kitchen staff send up some tea with a dram of single malt to warm you up. (And me as well.) Ahhhh, you noticed that I've been reading a de Lint novel which you don't recognize. That's not surprising as it's one of his earliest works, only The Riddle of the Wren, Moonheart: A Romance, and Mulengro: A Romany Tale being published before this novel. Moonheart got a cool new edition on Subterranean Press a short ways back, but The Riddle of the Wren and Mulengro: A Romany Tale either did not have a hardcover printing (the former) or the hardcover printing was a limited edition which might cost your firstborn to acquire (the latter).

Older works by an author are oft times quite problematic as regards the writing quality therein. Indeed sometimes even a beloved novel which you remember reading with fondness decades ago will prove to be a disappointment when you revisit it now. This happened to me a few winters back with The Hobbit as I decided to read it after not picking it up for the last thirty years. For me, that was a very bad mistake. I should have left it alone, as my tastes in fiction had rather obviously changed over the intervening decades.

If an author is at all good, they will, with time, become a much better writer than they were at the beginning of their writing career. So how does a reviewer look at a novel like The Harp of the Grey Rose, which was published early in the career of Charles de Lint? Is it fair to even judge its quality against his present-day works? Why should you purchase this work? What makes it worth your reading time? So grab a pint of spiced pumpkin ale from the Green Man Pub and we'll discuss both the text that de Lint has given us and the superb, as always, printing job that Subterranean Press has done for this edition.

Not counting the mass paperback edition on Firebird Books, which is not what I'd call a good reading copy for reasons I'll skip over here, the Subterranean Press edition of The Harp of the Grey Rose is the only edition in print. And a fine edition it is. The dust jacket art is by MaryAnn Harris, wife and musical partner of Charles, and quite an amazing person herself! As with all Subterranean Press books, you are getting a quality production done in a fine binding with a carefully typeset text. And at a mere thirty-five dollars, the price is just right to boot!

I should mention that they are both musicians because much of his writing is shaped by his (and her) love of all things musical. That he is a fine musician there is no doubt as you can hear on this piece of his, 'Sam's Song', which he wrote and performs here. And it goes without challenge that de Lint is among our best living fantasy writers.

So how is the story told here? First, go read Grey Walker's insightful review here. When you get done reading it, I'll give you my comments. the key passage in her review is her summation:

This isn't a bad book. It's just not very good. I might not judge it so harshly if I weren't so pleased with most of Charles de Lint's other books. De Lint is, far more often than not, a superb writer. For him, this is lukewarm, and hence more disappointing. De Lint completists will want to read it, but for anyone who's simply looking for good, solid, intriguing "high fantasy," there are lots of other great titles out there — some of them even by de Lint.

I found that it reads like much of the fantasy of the time -- flat with neither characters that were interesting nor much of a plot that I cared about enough to say the novel engaged me 'tall. Unlike Moonheart: A Romance, which was written in the same period of his writing life and holds up very well today, The Harp of the Grey Rose does not 'tall. If you want see what de Lint was like early in his career, by all means go read this novel. But if you're looking for a good novel which engage you, this isn't it. That novel would be Moonheart, preferably in the Subterranean Press edition, which with its Charles Vess illustrations is one of the finest books ever printed.

If you need other recommendations on what to read by this author, check our special de Lint issue in a month, as Robert Tilendis will be doing a look at his writing career. In the meantime, let's go listen to de Lint's 'The Tinker's Black Kettle' which can be heard here as recorded by the Tinker's Own on their Old Enough to Know Better album.

[Jack Merry]