Sunday, February 02, 2003

During a pleasant ramble through Borders yesterday, I was delighted to find a new book by one of my favorite authors, Charles de Lint. Waifs and Strays is a collection of short stories about teenagers, some of them characters that appear in other works and some of them completely new, all of them interesting. Though I've always loved fantasy, having read Tolkien and E. Nesbit since before I knew there was such a genre, I didn't stumble into the wonderful world of de Lint (or many of the other authors that I now consider among my favorites--see Thumping Good Reads above) until I met my dear boy five years ago. He introduced me to de Lint, despite not being a great fan (he has this bad habit of paying attention to the philosophy underlying the stories), and I was hooked after reading the first story in Moonlight and Vines.

This new collection is, in my opinion, better than another recent one, Tapping the Dream Tree, even though most of the stories are not set in Newford (a city that I intend to find someday!). Unlike his other collections, I enjoyed every story, reading through the whole book before I realized it this morning. De Lint does have some questionable philosophies, but his knack for creating worlds and characters is amazing. He is a great champion of the "invisible ones" of our world--bag ladies, abused children, drug addicts, the homeless--and reminds his readers that we may see wonderful things just by looking at these people that we prefer to ignore, illustrating this by placing many of his fantastical characters on the streets and in the slums.

I especially liked the connected stories "There's No Such Thing" and "Sisters", about a young vampire and her sister, in part because of the allusions to the TV show nearest and dearest to de Lint's heart as well as my own--"Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Another excellent story is "But for the Grace Go I", a typical de Lint tale about a street waif who appears strong and independent yet is hiding tragedies that keep her from the rest of the world. The element of fantasy is minor in this one, but present in the atmosphere as always. I also enjoyed "Somewhere In My Mind There Is A Painting Box", a prequel to the lovely novella Seven Wild Sisters.

"He knew their kind too well. They liked to pretend that the world followed their rules, that the wilderness beyond the confines of their villages and towns could be tamed, laid out in as tidy an order as the shelves of goods in their shops, of books in their libraries. But they also knew that under the facade of their order, the wilderness came stealing on paws that echoed with the click of claw on cobblestone. It crept into their streets and their dreams and would take up lodging in their souls if they didn't eradicate it in time." --Charles de Lint, "The Graceless Child", Waifs and Strays (Viking, 2002)

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