Publisher's Weekly, July 2003:
De Lint follows up 2001's triumphant The Onion Girl with another fine novel dually based in the fictitious city of Newford and a magical otherworld, where spirits of faerie and folklore occupy modern technology and cyberspace is a fantasy realm in which imagination fuels artificial intelligence. When a virus crashes Wordwood, a Web site existing in an "impossible limbo in between computers," a lot of people disappear, including Saskia Madding, girlfriend of perennial Newfordian character Christy Riddell. Saskia literally sprang full-grown from a computer and was already suffering an identity crisis when sucked into oblivion. She escapes by taking up residence in the same body as Christiana Tree. The heroic Christiana, Christy's "shadow," must restore Saskia to her own body, sort out what happened to Wordwood, and figure out what can be done to save it and the rest of the spirit world from chaos. Meanwhile, Christy and a band of companions leave consensual reality and enter the Internet spirit world, seeking to save Wordwood and those who have gone missing. De Lint makes the binary tangible and handles his concept of technological voodoo with intelligence, verve and wit while introducing fascinating new characters and expanding on old ones.
Spirits In The Wires takes elements of folklore and myth out of their traditional rural settings, and explores them in a modern urban locale and technological environment, but this time they're literally in the wires—specifically, the World Wide Web. The principal characters are Christy Riddell, a mainstay Newford character, on centre stage for a change, and the two women in his life: his girlfriend Saskia, who thinks she was born in a Web site, and his shadow Christiana, who is made up of all the parts of him that he cast off when he was seven years old.
Green Man Review, 2003:
De Lint takes the idea of cyberspace developing a personality (or personalities) of its own, a la William Gibson, and goes one step further. It seems the gods are going online. One spirit in particular has taken up residence in the Wordwood, a sort of repository of literature and literary references that used bookstore owner Holly Rue started with several techie friends a few years ago. Or is it that the Wordwood has developed a new spirit of its own? Either way, the site has seemingly removed itself from all servers and exists somehow in between the electronic messages and cables of the internet. If you try to look at its source code, you won't find any. And you can have conversations any time of the day or night with its mysterious webmaster, who seems to be always online. OK, so that's not so unusual; I have several online friends who never seem to log off or sleep. But the really unusual thing is that, no matter who you are, this webmaster sounds just like someone you trust and respect—your grandfather, perhaps, or an old professor.
But even if the Wordwood has no visible source code, it turns out that it can still be hacked. What happens when a very powerful spirit gets a virus and begins to self-destruct? And what about all the folks who happen to be logged onto the site at the time?
One reason that I come back to Newford again and again is to see old friends, even if only glimpses of them. I absolutely revelled in spending more time with Saskia and Holly, two characters I've wanted to know better. And I found myself grinning with delight when Borrible Jones, a tinker who has obvious ties to the tinker culture of de Lint's novel Mulengro, enters the scene. At the same time, watching the development of Christiana Tree, a newcomer who began life as the shadow of a long-time Newford inhabitant (which one? I'm not saying...), was equally enjoyable. And now she'll become one of my "old friends." I can't wait to see her in Newford again. When's the next book coming out, Mr. de Lint?
The Globe & Mail, Nov. 22/03:
The Canadian writers we are going to look at here have lately been adorned with gongs. Robert Charles Wilson won a 2002 John W. Campbell Award for his previous novel, The Chronoliths; Charles de Lint was guest of honour in Florida at this year's International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts; Spider Robinson was toastmaster at the World Science Fiction Convention held in Toronto over Labour Day, where Robert J. Sawyer won a Hugo Award for Hominids, the first title of a short series about an alternative world occupied by sentient Neanderthals, now completed in the SF novel under review.
If the literature of the fantastic in Canada may be thought of as something distinctive, then we may hope that the science fiction and fantasy generated by these four honoured men, all of whom are well known as Canadians by birth or choice, will express that distinction. We may hope, but we cannot demand. There are now so many active writers of SF and fantasy in Canada that it is no longer something of particular note that any one of them happens to work north of the border. In the novels on the table today, Sawyer's is partially set in Canada and mentions Canada a lot; de Lint's, being set in his amorphous Ottawa-like Newford, mentions Canada not at all, but exudes Canadianism; Robinson's dress rehearses some of the jokes about the United States he made as a Canadian toastmaster addressing mostly Americans, but otherwise keeps close to Key West; and Wilson, who places his tale of First Contact and rational transcendence in Minnesota, refers (I think twice) to Canadian weather. There is, in other words, no clear agenda on view. It may be, therefore, that we will be able to look at these four novels straight, or nearly.
Spirits in the Wires, by Charles de Lint, on the other hand, does not [force you to think]. It is yet another tale set in Newford, a city irradiated by Faerie, a venue, therefore, for urban fantasy riffs: elves and hobs and guitar-strumming incarnations of Robert Johnson and women with great hearts who end up with men who love them unto death and crones with hearts of gold and voodoo godlings. Shadows,Twins and Avatars proliferate throughout this long, long book. Around and within Newfold lie the borderlands, which you can enter if you know how to look out of the corner of your eye at the niceness of things.
Beyond the borderlands are the otherworlds, many of them. We humans live on islands surrounded by all this, Newford being a particularly porous island. The story itself, maybe a novella's worth on the rocks, involves two young women whose natural habitats are in the borderlands.
The implications of their shared condition are soon shelved, however, when a mysterious site called Wordwood, not stored in any computer, is attacked by a virus (it lacks defences) and seems to crash, only to return, ominously autonomous, and makes people disappear. All the good people in the cast—they can be identified by the fact that other good people in the cast like them—join together into a Companion posse and plunge into the Web and heal Wordwood. Everyone congratulates everyone, and lots of marriages ensue. Nobody in the end is not nice.
Library Journal, 2003:
Claiming that she was born in the web site known as the Wordwood, Saskia Madding strikes up a friendship with Christiana Tree, who believes herself to be the shadow twin of writer Christy Riddell, a resident of the Canadian town of Newford. When a sudden disruption of the Internet results in Saskia's abrupt disappearance, her friends search for her and other vanished site visitors in the otherworld that exists beyond the normal reality of Newford. Over the years, de Lint's Newford novels and short stories (The Onion Girl; Moonlight and Vines) have attracted a sizable following of fans of literate and thoughtful urban fantasy. His latest work combines world mythologies with cyberculture to produce a new vision of interwoven realities. Highly recommended.
Linear Reflections, August 2003:
I was astounded when I began to read this new novel of de Lint's, not only was it based on a fascinating premise, but it contained all the magic of some of his older works, like Moonheart, or Greenmantle. By the end of the second page I was thoroughly hooked and unable to set it aside for anything—it even accompanied me to the emergency room when the doctor sent my daughter there to have her appendix checked. While she changed, I read; while she was busy giving samples, I read. Every moment I could call my own, was spent embroiled on a startling and perplexing journey down an overwhelming train of thought become tale.
Spirits have followed the example of humans, and technology has invaded the Spirit World in a fashion that one would perhaps not thought possible. Or, it might be more prudent to say that the Spirit World has invaded the World Wide Web en masse. As one of the characters explains it to another— "...with all these spirits in the wires, the spiritworld's starting to bleed into the Internet I can see a time—and I'm talking months, not even years here—when it's all going to be one big place."
There is one very special web site that has been created, though. If you have a question and need help finding an answer, Wordwood is the place to go. A web site begun by a very eclectic group of people many years ago, that has apparently grown away from its programmers and taken on a life of it's own. The streaming flash into is a wonder to behold, a forest filled with magical creatures, and the wind whistling peacefully through the silvery branches of the trees. It comes across as an almost zen-like state of being contained within the screen.
So what happens when someone with an axe to grind sets up a nasty little surprise for the Wordwood? Things get a little crazy, to put it mildly. In reality, consensual or otherwise, there is a very grave danger of everything ceasing to exist. Cosmic balances are thrown out of whack, and there is even some possibility of rupture in the space/time continuums. All because of a simple little virus that was brought into being over someone's manhood taking a blow to the ego.
Geordie, Christy, Saskia, Holly, and numerous other characters, most of whom are well known to fans of de Lint's mythic town of "Newford," find themselves embroiled in one big problem. To quote another character,— "...we have a web site that's gone feral and has swallowed a big chunk of the people using it, including a whole bunch of our friends..." It is time to be afraid, very afraid. Not only could the people who have vanished into the Internet be gone forever, but our world, the Spirit World, and any other parallel planes of existence, could be completely and totally obliterated.
These people must come together, and work toward a common goal. It doesn't matter how they feel about one another, or their religious beliefs, or even their sexual orientations. All that matters is that they attempt to save the Wordwood, and by doing so, hopefully the world in its entirety. As the characters learn, nothing at all comes to matter in the end except who they are now; the past and who they were and what they did is immaterial—the future isn't written in stone, and is changeable—all that matters is the now.
de Lint has composed a wonderfully harmonic marriage of two genres with this remarkably superior literary work. Containing the elements of both Science Fiction and Fantasy, this novel is sure to please not only die hard de Lint fans, but anyone who is interested in either genre. de Lint is in his groove, and it's a real pleasing result!
Barnes & Noble, 2003:
The mysteries inhabiting the World Wide Web are the focus of Charles de Lint's Newford novel Spirits in the Wires. When a popular, literature-related research web site called the Wordwood crashes, everyone visiting the site—including popular author Christy Riddell's girlfriend, Saskia Madding—suddenly vanishes. Now her friends must somehow find her before it's too late.
Spirits in the Wires is de Lint at his absolute best, and it will keep him firmly entrenched at the vanguard of urban fantasy. De Lint not only expands upon the intriguing technological themes he touched on in previous short stories ("Saskia" and "Pixel Pixies") but digs deeper into the complex psyche of Riddell through the characters Saskia and Christiana. It was a pleasure to revisit beloved characters like used-book dealer Holly Rue and blues guitarist Robert Lonnie and to be introduced to new favorites like mall-rat Mother Crone and Web-born Suzanne Chancey.
Spirits in the Wires is a novel of Newford, de Lint's fictional city that hums with magic, potential, and no small amount of peril. This time around, the peril comes from a new source: the World Wide Web. By the nature of de Lint's urban fantasy, eclectic, up to date, and character-driven, this seems like a natural progression; we follow the people of Newford as they live their ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances, and technology has always been a part, if only small, of that day to day nature of the Newford storytelling style. Two of de Lint's earlier short stories had already posited that the magical beings all around us would find a natural home on the Internet itself as an alternate to the borderlands and magical realms. De Lint's most recent Newford short story collection, Tapping the Dream Tree, contains the story that is referenced most often in this new novel: "Pixel Pixies" tells the story of Holly the bookstore owner, who encounters a noxious group of pixies as they spill out from her computer. Only quick thinking and action by a hob, a creature that Holly didn't even know lived in and cared for her bookstore, saved the day and sent the pixies back onto the Internet.
Holly is a character in Spirits in the Wires, but this book is definitively an ensemble piece. The characters all get involved due to a crisis in the Wordwood, a crisis that starts with a small act of vengeance and snowballs out of control. The Wordwood is a website that started as a central repository for stories and myths, run by a couple of people collaborating on a fun idea. Soon, however, the website took on a life of its own, literally, as a spirit of some kind began inhabiting it. Texts appear, and no one added them; emails to the website get responses that don't seem human. The characters of de Lint's Newford love the site of course and when something happens to it, they mobilize in force to figure out what happened and do their best to fix it.
The novel proper begins with two characters: Saskia and Christiana. They meet in a café and begin talking. Saskia is an avatar of sorts, a segment of the Internet's spirit incarnated in a woman's body. Saskia tells how she learned to adjust to corporeal existence, some of her failed attempts to form human attachments (one of which is later crucial to the plot), and how she met and started dating Christy Riddell, a Newford regular. Christiana is also an avatar of sorts, and also has a connection to Christy. When Christy was seven, his psychological shadow separated from himself, so that a separate being was created with opposite traits to everything in his own personality. Over the years, Christiana has grown away from being a strict reverse side of Christy yet she still feels like she is somehow not quite her own person. The two women have a great deal in common and become close.
The plot of Spirits in the Wires begins after we have been introduced to a few more characters. Saskia had a date with a man named Aaran Goldstein, a date that went wrong, spectacularly. Now Aaran, an already unpleasant man, decides to get revenge on Saskia and her coterie of artsy friends by blackmailing a computer geek into crashing the Wordwood site. The computer expert named Jackson Hart uploads a virus to Wordwood later that night, only to trigger a catastrophic chain of events. He gets engulfed by a flood of black goop and disappears into cyberspace, along with hundreds of other people around the world who happened to be visiting the Wordwood site at precisely the wrong time. Those people like Christy and Holly who have previous experience with this type of magical infringement on our reality figure out the problem fairly quickly. But this is bigger news than just Newford, and in a nice series of explanations, we find out that, while the news is on CNN, the spirits who live in the wires gradually remove all traces of the real explanation. Since almost all modern information moves through electronic format in one way or another, the spirits have a reliable way of keeping their existence and abilities concealed. This deception is compounded by another human trait mentioned often in the Newford stories: humans tend to ignore what doesn't fit in our worldview, so it's easy for spirits to cloak their presence in reality.
However, to be ignored is problematic for those spirits who need human belief to continue existing. The World Wide Web is the new trend in human society and this makes it a welcome habitation for those creatures who are afraid of ceasing to exist. And Wordwood itself is a favourable target, due to its loyal fanbase, and when the site's defences are down to Jackson's virus, other beings try to take over. We get this background slowly over the course of the book, but it fits together beautifully. As I mentioned, the types of magic and the sources of myth in Newford are incredibly eclectic so I'm always curious to see how de Lint will tie the structure of a story together. Spirits in the Wires is a good example of his ability to do this.
As an ensemble piece, this novel takes us into the point of view of quite a few different characters. Saskia and Christiana are the main two; not necessarily by number of pages devoted to them, but by theme for certain. Both get caught up in the Wordwood site and have to figure out what to do. Others who are on the outside trying to get in include Christy, Holly, a helpful tinker named Borrible Jones (Bojo for short) who has an instant crush on Holly, Aaran himself who undergoes an interesting transformation over the course of the book, a bluesman named Robert Lonnie, a few of the other founders of Wordwood, and a woman named Suzi who comes into the story late and becomes very important to the course of events. Aaran meets Suzi on the street; she is fleeing a bad marriage and the two become friends, even though at first Aaran has exploitive thoughts in mind. Suzi has a strange effect on Aaran and soon he is going so far as to admit responsibility for the original virus and do what he can to make amends. Aaran's psychic makeover is a bit of a stretch, even when we later find out more about Suzi's true nature. But as I see the book, and perhaps Newford in general, the deeper story is about the powerful effects of community; a circle of true friends can overcome any obstacle, otherworldly or mundane, and help you become a better person. A bit earnest, but convincingly portrayed in an involving story. All in all, Spirits in the Wires is definitely another worthy Newford novel.