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Spirits in the Wires

Charles de Lint


US Hardcover 1st

ISBN 0-312-87398-0

Publication Date: August 2003

448 Pages; Price $27.95

Date Reviewed: 11-20-03

Reviewed by James M. Palmer © 2004



Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, General


Canadian author Charles de Lint returns with another novel set in his fictional city of Newford, where magic walks on city streets, a seer holds faerie revels in a shopping mall, and people enter the spiritworld as easily as crossing a room. If you haven't read any of his previous stories or novels, you might be a little put off, as this book features many of the same cast of characters that people his other works, but since each book is a stand alone story, and de Lint does a good job of describing the characters, you don't need to go back to book one and start from there. This isn't _The Wheel of Time_. But if you're willing, a good introduction to both Saskia and the Wordwood Web site can be found in the short story "Saskia", collected in _Moonlight and Vines_.

The story features Saskia, the girlfriend of writer Christy Riddell and Christiana Tree, Christy's shadow, the parts of himself that he cast off when he was seven years old. Saskia was born in a Web site called the Wordwood, a research and library site that has somehow taken on a life of its own apart from the Web. Both Saskia and Christiana question whether or not they are actually real. When Aaran Goldstein, a jilted lover of Saskia's, gets revenge by blackmailing a hacker to shut down the site, he gets more than he bargained for. Computer users all over the world get sucked into their computers, including Saskia. Now Christy, his musician brother Geordie, and the original founders of the Wordwood team up to figure out what's going on and how to get the people back.

Charles de Lint pulls out all the stops in this one. While his other books and stories seem to just show you a bit of the magic, _Spirits_ dives right in, having Christy and company journey into the spiritworld to retrieve their friends. Before, Christy only wrote about it, now he's living it. With the help of an Irish tinker named Borrible Jones, and an immortal bluesman on the run from a pack of hellhounds, Christy enters the spiritworld to retrieve Saskia and the others. While there they encounter gateway spirits, hellhounds, Papa Legba, and a large entity known as a Leviathan.

What follows is a weird excursion into de Lint's spiritworld and his characters. It's difficult to say whose book this is, as de Lint shifts viewpoints with each chapter. Some are told in the third person, and some are told in the character's own words, which keeps things fresh and exciting. The thing is, de Lint knows these characters inside and out because he writes about them all the time. He knows his city as well, and after a while you will too. From Gracie Street to the Tombs, the city comes to life as you read. It seems almost top-heavy with artists, writers, and musicians, but I think de Lint is simply writing what he knows. Still, it would be nice to see a lawyer or a banker once in a while, even if only to watch them meet a horrible end in an alley somewhere.

What really drives de Lint's fiction are the characters. It's always about the characters. In his stories and novels, it's not the magic that's important but how the people deal with it, how they use a paranormal encounter to learn something about themselves. And the paranormal encounter can be anything. De Lint combines elements of Native American, African, and European mythologies into a strange amalgam where anything can happen. Faerie rub elbows with leprechauns, storybook characters and loas.

I've only read two Newford novels and a collection of short stories, so I can't say whether or not _Spirits_ is the best of the lot. I didn't like it as much as _Someplace to be Flying_, the first de Lint novel I read, but could just be because it was the first one I read. I will say that I like the characters, and after reading about them in de Lint's other stories and novels it's nice to come back to them every so often just to see what they're up to and how they're doing, like visiting old friends.

There are plenty of new characters to get you hooked as well, like Aaran Goldstein, who starts out as the story's villain but becomes sorry for what he did, and journeys with Christy and company to undo the damage he helped cause. My personal favorite is Robert Lonnie, an immortal bluesman on the run from Papa Legba. Seems he made a deal with the devil at a crossroads and his running from his debt. I like the blues, and I'm glad de Lint did something with the crossroads legend. I hope to see Robert plucking chords in other stories and novels. I'd also like to see more with the tinker Borrible Jones, and I think de Lint will use both these characters again and again. Maybe that's de Lint's secret. He makes you want more and more.

If you've read all the other Newford stories and novels, then you'll want to read _Spirits in the Wires_. And if you've never read any of de Lint's work before, this is as good a place as any to start.