Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The city of Newford which serves as a background for many of Charles de Lintís novels, is a complex city with a long history, a thriving art and music community and plenty of magic existing just under the surface. The city also seems to serve as a magnet for people who, even if they donít thrive, seem to belong in Newford. In Forests of the Heart, de Lint examines these immigrants and what they bring to their adopted city.
The immigrants range from Bettina San Miguel, a Mexican-Indian woman who can travel into the spiritland, la ťpoca del mito, to Donal and Miki Greer, a brother and sister from Ireland who have an understanding of and belief in the Gentry, the fairy folk of Irish lore. Representing the local legends is Tommy Raven and his sixteen aunts, members of the local Indian tribe. Bringing all these people together is Ellie Jones, a sculptor who does not believe in magic and spends her spare time works to help the homeless.
Ellieís work with the homeless throws her into contact with the mysterious Musgrave Wood, who hired Ellie to re-create a mask Wood own which has been broken. Although important to the story, Ellieís work on the mask is often ignored in favor of looking at the individual humans in the story, and de Lint has provided himself with an enormous cast of characters. In addition to those mentioned above, de Lint includes Hunter, the owner of the record store at which Miki works, as well as the other employees, and the various artists and support people who work at Kellygnow, the artist colony where Bettina models and Ellie eventually comes to work on the mask.
De Lintís characters are realistic and act in a very human manner, whether they believe in magic or not. Although his skeptical characters eventually come to believe in magic when it is demonstrated to them, they have to be convinced. Frequently, after magic is demonstrated, de Lintís characters continue to refuse to believe it until the events can no longer be explained by natural events. As Donal Greer comments to Ellie, ďthereís magic everywhere you turn, if you pay attention to it. Little miracles, like your being in the right place at the right time. . . .Ē de Lint seems to be pointing out that magic exists, especially if you have a broad enough definition of what magic is.
It is ironic, therefore, that when magic really does enter Forests of the Heart, the novel suffers for its inclusion. While de Lint is usually quite good at combining magic with his realistic and gritty portrayal of Newford, the magic doesnít quite seem to be as well integrated in Forests of the Heart as it has been in his earlier novels. This may be due, in part, to the multiple mythologies which de Lint is examining in depth.
The magical threat Ellie and her friends must contend with is the decision by the Gentry, or hard men, as Donal Greer calls them, to take over the lands around Newford which are already claimed by the manitou, the spirits of the indigenous tribes. The Gentryís plans are well laid out and very wide ranging. When they begin to effect one of de Lintís characters, however, the transformation which occurs in the character is so great and unexpected, it feels more like a deus ex machina rather than a logical outgrowth of the personality de Lint has already shown.
While weaker than many of de Lintís novels, the storytelling skill which infuses so much of de Lintís writing is clearly present. His characters are likeable, even when their motives and intentions are questionable. While the magic may not work entirely within this story, the depiction of Newford, the storm which descends upon it, and the characters which populate it more than make Forests of the Night worth the price and time.
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