Charles de Lint, Into the Green (Tor, 1993; Orb, 2001)
Angharad was born a tinker. She has always had the Sight, but one day two witches, Woodfrost and his grandson Garrow, join her father's travelling company, and from them she learns just what having the Sight means. They tell her that through her veins runs the Summerblood, inherited from the kowrie and their lord Hafarl, the ancient fey who still live in the world beyond our sight. Those with Summerblood can see into that world, "into the green," and speak the languages of animals and trees. To the ordinary housey-folk, however, such people are called witches, and they are feared. And sometimes hunted.
In a surprisingly dark and realistic turn for a traditional fantasy story, Angharad's company of tinkers encounters the plague in Chapter Two of Into the Green. When the plague takes the life of Angharad's lover and leaves her bereft of family and community, she seeks out the dread Jackie Lantern and his band of fellow kowrie harpers. She intends to demand the return of her lover from the dead, but instead the kowrie give her another, more precious gift: a harp that can play the music of the green and waken the Summerblood wherever it sleeps. Along with their gift, however, comes a task. An ancient evil in the form of a puzzle box threatens to enslave the souls of any Summerborn who sees it, turning all of the green into desolate blackness. Angharad must find the box, wake it, and destroy it.
Into the Green is studded with beautiful images. De Lint's description of the evil puzzle box captures the reader's imagination and lingers there. "[It was] a small silver and ebony box, ornately designed, a mingling pattern of dark and light that stole the gaze and trapped it fast....Angharad looked for as long as she could, but the box's design disturbed her. The more she looked, the more her head spun. It was like hanging over the edge of a cliff, high above the sea, and suddenly realizing that there were no handholds. The design drew her into it, the strange mix of linework and geometric spirals catching her gaze like a fly caught in honey. It dragged her into following a pattern inside herself, a pattern that laid shadows on the quiet green of her soul." Just like Caitlin Midhir, the heroine of de Lint's book Yarrow, it is through the shadow in her soul that Angharad must fight and overcome the greater shadow of the box.
The heart of this book is the sort of taut, well-developed suspense story that de Lint weaves so well. How Angharad finds the box, how she discovers disguised enemies and unlikely friends, and how, in the end, the triumph over evil comes through an unsuspected source, make for fast and satisfying reading. Yet I appreciated the book most for its stories-within-stories. One of the most dreamlike and lovely of these is the story of how Angharad in her wanderings discovers a wild boy who claims that a wizard trapped in a tree has bound him. When Angharad ascends the giant tree, she finds a wizardly house built high up in its branches. Angharad wins a riddling contest with the spirit of the tree, and discovers that the bound boy is not what he seems. The outcome of the story is a classical example of fairy tale transformation.
Any writer who consistently turns out solid, well-written books leaves the reviewer in a bit of a quandary. After all, not every book can be his "best book," can it? By the time Into the Green was published in 1993, de Lint already had several resounding publishing successes under his belt, such as the delightful urban fantasies set in modern Ottawa, Jack the Giantkiller and Drink Down the Moon; the disturbingly beautiful The Dreaming Place, illustrated by Brian Froud; and the music-filled The Little Country. Like The Little Country, Into the Green is full of music, and once again de Lint -- who is also a musician -- includes tunes in the back of the book as accompaniment to the story. Unlike the other titles mentioned here, however, Into the Green sits more firmly in the "traditional" fantasy tradition, taking place as it does in an entirely different world and time than our own. While I can't say that this is his best (read: my favorite) book, it is a fine story in the de Lint tradition of fine stories. I feel honored that Orb's re-release of this book as a trade paperback -- with more of John Howe's beautiful painting displayed on the cover--has given me the chance to review it.
A complete bibliography of Charles de Lint's work, as well as excerpts from his most recent projects, biographical information, and other gems to delight new and longtime fans, can be found at his Web site. Green Man has also reviewed over thirty of his books.