By Charles de Lint

Triskell Press


249pp/$16.99/April 2021

Juniper Wiles
Cover by MaryAnn Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Although Charles de Lint has written novels set in a wide range of places, from the Cornwall of The Little Country to the American Southwest of The Wind in His Heart, the setting that is most widely associated with him is the city of Newford, with a vigorous art scene overlaying a world where magic and fairy is just beneath the surface. De Lint has returned to Newford with his new novella, Juniper Wiles, which is quite different than the stories he has previously set there.

In his introduction, de Lint notes that he is often tagged as a writer of urban fantasy, however the term as it frequently is applied doesn't really fit the stories he tells about Newford. I've long felt that “urban fantasy" referred to two distinct sub-genres. One is the mythic tales told by de Lint or in the Borderlands series, the other has a tendency to focus on vampires, werewolves, and other fantastic beasts moving through an urban environment. According to de Lint, Juniper Wiles is a story in which he approaches the latter version of urban fantasy.

The title character of Juniper Wiles starred in a television series about the detective Nora Constantine several years before the novel begins. She has long since retired and lives off royalties from the show, with no desire to revisit it or attend the lucrative conventions that her agent still contacts her about. Instead, she lives a quiet life in Newford with her brother, Tam, and takes art lessons from de Lint's recurring character Jilly Coppercorn.

Juniper's life is turned upside down when she is recognized by a fan in a café who offers her a substantial fee if she'll take a case for him, mistaking the actress for the character. Juniper declines his offer, but later feels some remorse about the way she did it, until she sees his picture in a newspaper that identifies him as a murder victim from a week before her encounter with him. Fortunately for Juniper, Jilly is available to act as her guide into the world of the supernatural, although even she is unsure about what Juniper is facing.

Juniper's experiences over a two week period are divided into multiple parts. Although the case of the corpse's case is constantly crying out for her attention, she is also focused on the upcoming FairieFest and her adoption of a dog. De Lint does his usual excellent job of balancing the mundane aspects of Juniper's life with the new worlds that are opening up for her. This balance is one of the keys to de Lint's abilities to create an environment that feels like the magical and mythical exists just beneath the thin veneer of the reality that is our world.

While Juniper Wiles will certainly appeal to readers who are familiar with de Lintian urban fantasy, readers who are looking for their vampires and zombies may be disappointed. Juniper and her allies do discuss their existence and the threat that they pose and eventually come face to face with them, but in many ways the final encounter is anti-climactic. De Lint's focus in on Juniper's group without directly getting into the head of her antagonist in a way the fully made his villainy come to life.

The existence of magic runs through all of de Lint's novels, but the other main theme that constantly shows up is friendship and that is one of the key features in Juniper Wiles. At the end of the film Stand by Me, Richard Dreyfus's Gordon asks “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?" and in The Big Chill, William Hurt's Nick admonishes his friends, “Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don't know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It's not surprising our friendship could survive that. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough." De Lint's novels constistently refute both of those outlooks. The friendships between his characters survive the difficult times and those friendships, new and old, provide sustenance to allow the characters the survive.

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