Friday, 19 June 2009

Forests of the Heart by Charles De Lint

Another read for the Once Upon a Time III Challenge (I’m afraid that I may not finish Marina Warner’s hefty and fascinating book, No Go the Bogeyman, because it is overdue at the library – I may have to buy a copy after all*).

As with other De Lint books, Forests of the Heart follows a number of main characters and weaves their stories around each other like a piece of Celtic knotwork. It’s set in Newport, a city neither US nor Canadian, our first step into the marginal lands that De Lint regularly inhabits, and from where it’s a short leap of the imagination to find ourselves in that other place where old and new world magics might struggle for supremacy. Because, of course, when the settlers travelled from the “old” world, they brought their legends with them, only to find that the “new” world had its own genii loci – spirits of place. So the old gods, displaced, but living on in the memories of the settlers, drift around the margins, sometimes seen by those who have the ability, nurturing the desire for a place of their own until they can find someone who has the power to bring it about.

The focus is the old house, Kellygnow, an artist’s community cared for by Nuala, a woman of obvious power. First to arrive is Bettina, a Mexican-Indian healer, who is hoping to restore her inner peace, lost when her grandmother disappeared or died. She is both familiar with the duality of this world/other world, and uncertain of it, but she recognises that the men she sees hanging about outside the house and names los lobos, belong to the other world, and she finds herself strongly drawn to one of them.

Los lobos, the Irish guys who are always there in the pub, drinking and smoking and watching, and are so sharply drawn that the reader can almost smell them, smoke and beer and something also more feral and dangerous, so that there is always a sense of threat which quickly becomes real when the unsuspecting Hunter tangles with them. The real object of their interest, though, is Ellie, a sculptor. Chosen for her magical potential, she is invited to Kellygnow, where they want her to make an artefact which will enable los lobos to oust the native spirits, the manitou.

De Lint manipulates his various mythologies with assurance, incidentally depicting, in a series of flashbacks to the Arizonan desert, some of the most enchanting “spirits” I have come across. When I finished the book I had to Google los cadejos to find out more about them, and they are still singing and performing their clickety-clack dance in my head. In fact, I found Bettina’s strand of the story the most absorbing, an intriguing acquaintance with a mythology borne of heat and dust that is largely new to me, child of northern forests and Celtic darkness that I am. I’ve read a handful of De Lint’s books – this is my favourite to date, and will, I think, remain so.

Books read for the Challenge:

* Indeed, since I wrote this it has been returned, and a sizeable fine paid!


  1. What a great review; i have to check out this author. thanks

  2. oh, I'm not going to read this in time for the challenge, but I think I'll read it next any way. Wonderful review!!

  3. PS I just saw on your books you had Last Rituals - did you read it yet? I'm in the middle of it, reading it with Cath at Read-Warbler. Let me know if you have or not! Maybe we can do a three way review or something fun :-D

  4. Diane, I think his writing can be a bit patchy but this one is excellent.

    Susan, I'll be interested to see what you think of it. And yes, a 3-way review or something sounds a great idea!