This is the book that cemented my love for the urban fantasy genre and, in particular, my love for Charles de Lint. This man is a master storyteller, who infuses his stories with lifelike characters, evocative settings, and a sense of wonder that I think is sometimes too often missing in a lot of fantasy.
We first meet Janey Little, a Celtic musician who has returned to Mousewhole (pronounced Mouzel) in Cornwall to spend some time with her grandfather, known to everyone as the Gaffer, who practically raised her. Janey’s career is going fairly well, except she needs a new side man as her last one hasn’t worked out, but she’s not going to worry about that. Instead, she goes up to the Gaffer’s attic and starts looking through old papers, and finds what seems to be a new novel by a friend of the Gaffer’s, an eccentric writer named William Dunthorn. This novel, however, was only published in an edition of one copy. Delighted, Janey starts to read, and we, the readers, are brought along with her for the story within the story.
Dunthorn’s novel features Jodi Shepherd, an orphan raised by her aunt who owns the town brothel, in the village of Bodbury, which is also somewhere in Cornwall, although Bodbury comes directly from de Lint’s imagination. Jodi’s bored with her own lot in life, most of which involves cleaning up after the animals in the shop of the inventor Denzil Gossip. So when a rumor starts among the Tatters Children, a group of local waifs who basically run wild, that the Widow Pender, reputed to be a witch, is keeping a Small in her house, Jodi has to break in.
Once these events are set in motion–Janey’s opening the book and Jodi entering the world of the Widow Pender, things won’t be the same for either woman. There is danger, intrigue, even a bit of romance for both of them.
De Lint weaves the story within a story wonderfully. He can also juggle a huge cast of characters and their multiple viewpoints with real aplomb. And while there’s always action happening, he knows exactly when to pull back and allow for some quiet moments. But when
the climax comes–and it happens at the same time in both stories–the tension really ratchets up.
I mentioned above that I love the wonder with which de Lint infuses his stories. He transported me to a place where magic was very much real, where a witch or her fetch could come upon anyone unawares and cast spells on them, where dead men talk and Smalls–tiny, magical beings–are very much alive. And that’s just in Jodi’s story. The thing that captivated me about Janey’s story was the sense of place.
It’s obvious De Lint has been to Mousewhole, because his descriptions are evocative. And the music. I loved that music was a huge part of everyone’s life, whether it be playing music, listening to it, or singing it. The inherent magic in music is a theme de Lint uses often, and it’s one of my favorites. And I am fairly certain I would not be the lover of Celtic music that I am if it weren’t for Janey and company. And, this being a romance blog, I have to mention that
the second time around love story between Janey and Felix, a sailor she’s known for years, is among my top romances ever as it’s very poignant and well-done.
In conclusion, this is a wonderful fantasy novel. You get two books for the price of one, and two extremely entertaining stories at that.
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