From Publishers Weekly, December 21, 1998:
As always, de Lint's writing is smooth and captivating, though the frequency of recurring themes (death, lost love) make the book best read in short spurts. Even at their darkest, the author's stories, like the best fantasy, will remind readers that "no matter how grey and bland and pointless the world might seem…there really is more to everything than what we can see."
From Booklist, American Library Association, December 1998:
De Lint's emphasis on lurking mysteries recalls the stories of Lord Dunsany and H.P. Lovecraft, but his stories lack those dark fantasy masters' near-worship of the archaic. They deliver intellectual pleasure rather than emotional impact-in this volume, at least, partly because most are relatively short. In them, he remains the most literate and ingenious purveyor of urban fantasy, and his technical mastery reminds us that not all writers of the New Wave in fantasy have dwindled away to puddles.
From Denver Post, January 1999:
Anthologies of mediocre stories written around some theme are published almost every month. A principal reason to look at these books is that there may be a story by Charles de Lint standing high above the crowd. Luckily, many of these stories are together in "Moonlight and Vines" (Tor, $24.95).
This is a large collection of stories from the streets of Newford, where ghosts and guardian angels and even vampires inhabit the lives of the musicians and writers of de Lint's gentle adventures. There are a number of recurring characters, and everyone seems to know Jilly the artist and Geordie the musician.
The stories are about caring and healing. The harshness of life on the street is always overcome by some kind of warmth and magic. Even the vampire can give and receive some kind of tenderness.
In the story "Crow Girls," a pair of animal spirits appear human most of the time. Their presence alone has a positive effect on people. Geordie says, "Just thinking of them makes me feel good now." The same can be said of de Lint's stories.
A second collection of tales set in the North American city of Newford (Dreams Underfoot, 1993). The milieu is "Urban Faerie," a modern setting where characters blended from Old European and Native American myths and legends not only still exist but also interact with those inhabitants inclined to perceive them. One of the latter is author Christy Riddell, who narrates, or is told, stories deriving from this interplay. The twenty-two pieces include two original stories, four others that appeared only as limited edition chapbooks, and an original poem; the remainder are drawn from various collections and magazines. A proportion of Newford's seemingly human population have "animal blood"; some can shape shift; others have godlike powers (or are gods) and interfere in mortal lives.
These, like Crow girls Maida and Zia, art teacher Jilly Coppercorn, or the mysterious street trader Bones (he's also a Native American mystic) weave in and out of the stories or occasionally claim a tale on their own account. Often intriguing, with a dreamily original flavor and atmosphere, though lacking the impact of de Lint's Newford novels (Someplace to be Flying, 1998, etc.).
Walk into a bookstore-any bookstore-and take a look at the titles lining the shelves of the fiction section. Odds are there won't be too many short story collections, and more's the pity. In today's corporate-minded climate, short story collections don't promise the high-profit return offered by the mega-selling novels of the Tom Clancys and John Grishams of the world, so most publishers simply ignore them. Table scraps for the small press, so to speak.
It says something, then, when a major publisher-in this case, TOR Books-devotes itself to a major hardcover release of such a collection. Of course, when that collection happens to be Moonlight and Vines-the third volume in Charles de Lint's ever-growing Newford chronicles-the call's an easy one to make. Both of his previous collections, Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn, remain in print, and de Lint's loyal readers snatch up his stories whenever they show up in anthologies or the genre magazines. Needless to say, Moonlight and Vines is a must-have for those familiar with de Lint's work, as well as newcomers to his distinct flavor of urban fantasy.
The stories in Moonlight and Vines take place-like almost everything de Lint writes nowadays-within the mythical North American city of Newford. The usual cast of characters is here, with Jilly Coppercorn and the Riddells-Geordie and Christie-leading the way. Even Bones, the enigmatic Native American Trickster figure from de Lint's 1997 novel Trader puts in an appearance in the heartfelt "Wild Horses."
Perhaps the most intriguing of the new offerings is "Shining Nowhere but in the Dark." Eventually published in Realms of Fantasy, "Shining" was originally written for Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Book of Dreams anthology, but was withdrawn when Time-Warner demanded full copyright ownership-which conflicted with de Lint's already-established copyrights on Newford and various characters. The revised version features the Fates of classic mythology, but it doesn't take much imagination to replace them with Dream, Death and the rest of the Endless from the popular DC comic. It's clear de Lint had a good grasp of the characters and had fun in Gaiman's playground, making the resulting story that much more Time-Warner's loss.
Another comic-related story is "If I Close My Eyes Forever," which originally appeared as a collaboration with Charles Vess in Mojo Press' massive comic anthology Weird Business. Minus Vess' artwork, the rewritten tale is more philosophical and introspective than the original version, which was pretty spare with the narraration, relying on imagery to evoke mood. Surprisingly, both versions hold up well, and are different enough to stand on their own.
A real treat for readers is the inclusion of four tales-"Crow Girls," "Heartfires," "My Life as a Bird" and "The Fields Beyond the Fields"-previously available only in the form of limited-edition Christmas chapbooks. Unlike the commissioned work de Lint does for theme anthologies, there are no outside constraints on these stories, and there's a sense of experimentation and fun about them that not all of the other tales in this book share. Now these stories don't always work to perfection, but that's excusable, since they're still a pleasure to read. "Heartfires" is perhaps the strongest of the four, a hard-to-classify piece that examines the shadowy ground where reality and stories converge, with a good dose of Native American mythology thrown in for good measure. "My Life as a Bird" is a fun, silly romp that breaks no new ground with its take on the traditional frog prince theme of fairy tales, but it's such a joy to read that nothing more is needed. "Crow Girls" leaves the reader wanting the rest of the story, and could be viewed, in fact, as a test drive for the characters which would later show up in de Lint's 1998 novel Someplace To Be Flying. And the book's closing piece, "The Fields Beyond the Fields," is a somber character study of recurring character Christie Riddell, a man who lives with and writes about magic and myth, yet struggles to hold onto his own belief in the fantastic. Taken with the other Christie Riddell story contained here, "Saskia," which opens this volume, the two stories provide enchanting, understated bookends.
The only real disappointments are "In the Pines," a ghost story that never really develops a reason for being beyond an infuriating "Oops, never mind" ending, and "China Doll," written for the anthology The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams. Unlike the resonant myth of Gaiman's Sandman, de Lint's hopeful, humanist style clashes uncomfortably with the nihilistic themes of the ultra-popular, ultra-violent Crow movies and comics. No stranger to horror, de Lint probably would've had better luck had he written this story on his own terms and not followed the constraints imposed by the anthology-but since the anthology is the only reason this story exists in the first place, that's pretty much a moot point.
Despite its flaws, Moonlight and Vines is a worthy addition to the de Lint canon. With a heavier emphasis on Native American mythos and a near lack of Celtic themes, this volume stands apart from Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and The Horn. And while Moonlight and Vines never quite achieves the lofty sense of wonder evoked by Dreams Underfoot -what could?-it only serves to reinforce the notion that de Lint is at his best when writing the short form.
Although the opening poem and a few of the twenty-one short stories in Moonlight and Vines are original to the collection, most of the stores were first published elsewhere. They all fit together, though, and not only because they are set in Newford, writer Charles de Lint's mythical, magical city. A number of themes run through the stories, unifying the parts into a whole. Crows, dreams, life, death, fiddle music and magic fill the pages, reinforcing the stories rather than being repetitive.
De Lint writes about being open to possibilities and how that makes one open to the transforming magic that is all around. In de Lint's world, beauty and strength flourish in grim and sordid surroundings, help comes from unexpected sources, and stories connect unlikely characters. Readers of de Lint's books will encounter familiar characters, from the frequently appearing Jilly Coppercorn and fiddler Geordie Riddell to more obscure characters, such as Ash Enys of The Dreaming Place.
De Lint has a remarkable talent for getting inside a character's skin; his own voice and thought processes don't intrude into the characters, and he portrays women exceptionally well. He also has a flair for finding things with which the reader can identify, something as as simple as a childhood memory or a secret dream or feeling. These serve to widen the range of possibilities.
The opening poem "Sweetgrass & City Streets" sets the stage, hinting at what hides beneath the surface in an ordinary looking city filled with ordinary looking people. "Saskia" and "The Fields Beyond the Fields" are both narrated by Christy Riddell, and the stories bracket the rest of the collection with their quiet, thoughtful consideration of faith in love, magic and mystery. One sees Christy undergo transformations and more beyond the fears and doubts which hamper his heart.
Five of the stories are primarily explorations of death and what may or may not lie beyond. "In This Soul of a Woman" isn't so much about one character's impending death as it is about how one chooses to live. In "The Big Sky," John Tarraway discovers that it is never too late to find a purpose for being. Singer Darlene Flatt gets an unexpected visitor and an opportunity to take a measure of her dreams in "In the Pines," while a woman afraid of dying fights her dreams in "Shining Nowhere But the Dark." "China Doll" matches an unlikely pair who have mutual unfinished business before they can move on.
De Lint reminds us of how important it is to pay attention not only to our own dreams but to the dreams of others in "Held Safe by Moonlight and Vines." "Heartfires" is about how crucial story is to identity, healing and survival, as is "Seven for a Secret." "In the Land of the Unforgiven" is a grim, gritty story which redefines justice and retribution.
The remaining stories—"Birds," "Passing," "The Invisibles," "Crow Girls," "Wild Horses," "My Life As a Bird," "In the Quiet After Midnight," "The Pennymen" and "Twa Corbies"—are each about a character's coming into contact with a magical possibility of some kind, and how each character responds. Each story is fresh and unique, as if looking at the same idea through a well cut, multi-faceted prism.
This is a book meant to be savored. If you can, give yourself some time to digest and appreciate each story. De Lint is a master storyteller with a brilliant command of narrative and dialogue, and each story is worthy of careful consideration and contemplation.
While readers familiar with Newford might experience greater appreciation of some of the details, this collection would be perfectly accessible to a newcomer to de Lint's writing. So get yourself a copy, find a comfortable chair, unplug the phone and open yourself up to the possibilities within the covers.
Moonlight and Vines is Charles de Lint's most recent Newford collection, following Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn. All of the familiar characters of Newford are here, although most of the core friends no longer get their own story; thankfully, the new cast is just as fascinating. As usual, it's always a good feeling to meet up with Jilly or Geordie, even if they are only secondary to the main narrative. De Lint continues to expand Newford's literary territory with confidence and a good deal of grace, and his prose is a joy to read. Not particularly flashy, yet not completely invisible.
Moonlight and Vines seems to have more of an emphasis on relationships than the previous two books. The story from which the title of the book is derived, "Held Safe by Moonlight and Vines," is a wonderfully moving account of a woman named Lilli and a sudden romance in her life. She is hanging out a good deal in the cemetery, for her own personal reasons, and becomes aware that a man is following her. Then a drug deal goes wrong, and this mysterious man protects her—it is her childhood friend, Alex, who finally admits that he has been in love with Lilli his whole life. This plot summary reads like my worst nightmare, but de Lint somehow manages to create something true and lacking false sentimentality.
The story of Saskia bookends this collection. In "Saskia," we first find out about Saskia, who is not quite human, and about the man who loves her. "The Fields Beyond the Fields" closes the collection and here de Lint depicts post-relationship trauma in all its hurt and confusion. Many of de Lint's romances concern themselves with non-Hollywood relationships, as with "In This Soul of a Woman," where an exotic dancer named Nita who meets Imogen (who turns out to be a vampire). "Passing" deals with lesbian characters (something with which Hollywood still has a few odd problems), and a girl named Nina who claims to be a sword girl. "The Invisibles" is one of de Lint's tragic love stories, where things don't work out according to plan, not by miles and miles.
Another theme that I noticed running through this collection more so than the previous two is the first encounter with magic. Dreams Underfoot had "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow" where a main character ends up institutionalized because of her refusal to see the magic around her. In Moonlight and Vines, de Lint spins several variations on this theme. I've already mentioned "The Invisibles," where the main character won't believe in the invisibility of friendless people until it happens to him. "In the Quiet After Midnight" is a strange and frightening story about a woman named Hannah who meets someone in a church late at night; she desperately tries to deny her own guesses about this mysterious person. "The Pennymen" is perhaps most similar to "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow." Eliza owns an art gallery and starts seeing Pennymen around the place, Pennymen being men the size of pennies and who appear to be pennies if you are looking at them. Eliza's roommate Sarah is terrified of Eliza's tales; Sarah's mother "went crazy" many years ago and so Sarah is protective of her sanity.
De Lint again uses the fictional setting of Newford to address pressing issues of social justice. As a refreshing change from other works of fantasy, the Newford stories are often about or told by those who are marginalized by society. We never see the bigwigs of the city; the view of Newford is ground up, and it's bold and profoundly subversive. It's fascinating how de Lint addresses various evils and ills of our society, all in a non-dogmatic way with fiction that keeps us reading. However, there are two vigilante stories in Moonlight and Vines that are somewhat problematic. In the first, "In the Land of the Unforgiven," Joe Cray has just gotten out of jail, after having served his time for murder. Joe finds out about a child-slavery ring, and a cop named Dan lets Joe get away with (if not actively encouraging) the murder of the ring-leader. This murder is somehow portrayed as different than the one Joe served time for. "China Doll" is a revenge story, and its two main characters, Coe and China, are dead. That doesn't stop them from taking revenge on the gang led by Jimmy, Coe's former colleague in a top-secret U.S. assassination squad. In order to give the dead (themselves) peace, Coe and China turn Jimmy in to the police. These two stories are about people whose patience with evil is stretched to the breaking point, and while the motivations were believable, I was uneasy with the portrayal of these people as guiltless heroes.
Moonlight and Vines has some stories that are largely unclassifiable. "My Life as a Bird" is about a woman named Mona who creates the comic book of the title. She loans some money to a leprechaun named Nacky Wilde, who is now beholden to her, and proceeds to make her life miserable with his extreme sarcasm and intermittent invisibility. The story is a hoot, and Nacky might be the most sarcastic character I've ever encountered. "Crow Girls" is a warm-up for Someplace to Be Flying, and like that novel, it has an odd plot and is compulsively readable.
Moonlight and Vines is highly recommended, and is just as good a place to begin discovering Newford as the other short story collections. The stories are filled with magic, personal pain, and believable epiphanies. No cheap emotion here.