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Forests of the Heart (Newford) Hardcover – June 3, 2000
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Forests of the Heart is an enthralling voyage into the seamier side of urban magic. Returning to the familiar environs of Newford, where he sets so many of his modern myths, Charles de Lint introduces some of his most memorable characters yet.
The Gentry are ancient spirits of the land, sired in rape and born of woman in the Old Country. When the Irish immigrated to the New World, some of the Gentry came along. Generations later, having no real ties to their new home, they dream dark dreams of wresting the land surrounding Newford from the native manitou spirits. The Gentry's scheming and plotting draw some of the inhabitants of Newford into a dark and desperate fight against them and a primeval spirit, old as the earth itself but slumbering in la epoca del mito, the myth time.
Bettina, a curandera--or healer--is part Mexican and part Indian. She has recently moved to Newford from the deserts of the Southwest for reasons she can't understand. She lives in Kellygnow, an art colony perched on a hill overlooking Newford. Earning her keep as a model for the various artists who live and work there, she tries to apply her desert-learned skills and knowledge in the cold, forested surroundings.
Bettina's fellow Kellygnowians include Nuala, who seems slightly more spiritual than the average housekeeper; Ellie, a sculptor with a very special commission; and the Recluse, a mysterious figure who winters at Kellygnow in one of the outlying private cottages. Donal, an Irish-born malcontent who dreams of better times, joins them, along with Miki, his musician sister, and Tommy, a Native American accompanied by a few of his apparently innumerable aunts. The looming battle against a seemingly invincible foe draws them together and forces them to depend not only upon their skills and powers, but also on hope, trust, and love.
Blending aspects of different cultural legends and myths with his keen insight into human nature, Charles de Lint offers a truly incredible and compelling tale. His specialty is an intoxicating mix of real and fantasy worlds, and Forests of the Heart delivers a delicious punch. With his deft touch and sensitive style, de Lint's mastery of the urban fantasy tale and his ability as a great storyteller remain unchallenged. --Robert Gately
From Publishers Weekly
Irish fairies, Native American shape-changers and Africa's Anansi the Spider all meet up as de Lint (The Buffalo Man) weaves a new tale of urban magic, in which a diverse cast of characters learns that all the oldest myths are true. This comes as no surprise to Bettina San Miguel (a Mexican-Indian healer whose power comes from her father, a hawk-spirit), or to Tommy Raven (whose aunts back on the reservation were in regular contact with the spirit world). But Hunter Cole and Ellie Jones, who have never believed in anything supernatural, are shocked to learn that Ellie has enormous magical powers. Conversely, for Miki Greer, the revelation is a horrible confirmation of her Irish father's angry rantings--and a dangerous portent for her brother, Donal, who is involved with the violent "hard men" (displaced Irish spirits, also known as the Gentry and los lobos, looking for a home in America). The "hard men" want to summon a Green Man to fight the native spirits--and they want to use Donal's body to help them do it. Suddenly, the fictional city of Newford is crawling with magic--some hostile, some strangely appealing. And Bettina, Tommy, Hunter and Ellie must stop Donal before it's too late. A leisurely, intriguing expedition into the spirit world, studded with Spanish and Gaelic words and an impressive depth of imagination, de Lint's latest teems with music, danger and a touch of romance. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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As for Forests of the Heart, it is classic de Lint storytelling. The storyline and characters are engaging. I found myself four chapters into the book in a few hours time. Towards the end I slowed way down, savoring each page and wishing the story didn't have to end.
In Ireland they are called the Gentry, ancient spirits of the land, and they are amoral and very dangerous. When the Irish emigrated to the new world, some of the Gentry went with them. But America already had spirits of its own, the Manitou, and the Gentry had nowhere to call their own any more.
Bettina is a part Indian, part Mexican girl who has moved to Canada. She lives in the artist colony of Kellygnow on the outskirts of Newford. She sees the Gentry as dark men, squatting in the snow, smoking cigarettes and waiting and watching. Something in their attitude reminds her the wolves she knew in her childhood. She calls them los lobos. Those few others in Newford possessed of the ability to see them call them the hard men. They congregate in folk clubs where Celtic music is played. Always they huddle together, drinking canned Guinness and smoking their endless cigarettes. Sometimes they pick fights for no good reason. Hunter, the proprietor of a music store, meets Ellie Jones, a sculptor. The hard men beat him up and warn him off her. Although she doesn't know it yet, Ellie is under their protection for they have a use for her.
Ellie is invited to Kellygnow where she is given a commission - she is to cast a metal mask, a replica of an old, broken Celtic mask. The hope is that with the new mask, a powerful Celtic earth spirit can be reincarnated Perhaps then the hard men will finally gain a proper place for themselves.
But the plans go awry and Bettina, Ellie, Hunter and their friends are joined together with the manitou in a hard and dangerous fight that plays itself out in the cold, wintery streets of Newford and in the myth time, the spirit lands that surround the town.
Normally I have little patience with this kind of thing, particularly when it involves terribly trendy things like Celtic culture and myth. All too often the thing turns into a new age hodgepodge of touchy-feely syrup. However that never happens with de Lint. There's always a hard edge, always a cold reality at the heart of even the deepest myths and he never loses sight of the relationships between myth, superstition, magic and the mundane need to eat breakfast and go to the toilet. Perhaps that's why I keep coming back to his books and why I devour them so avidly. He seldom disappoints and Forests of the Heart is one of his very, very best.
The onion girl, forests of the hearts...so many and all so amazing...his mind fascinates and intrigues me to no end
If you haven't read any others of de Lint, especially the ones centering on "Newford," don't start here. Read Trader or his anthology Tapping the Dream Tree first to get your feet wet, get used to characters which'll pop up in later novels with gossipy, small-town regularity. (Newford's a little like the spirit of Vancouver transplanted into eastern Canada.)
I'd recommend Forests of the Heart most highly for the sole reason of getting to know the character Bettina San Miguel -- she's my sole reason for the stars. Full of spirit (and spirits), a heady mix of Spanish, English, Indigena culture roiling around in her like a pack of dogs (you'll see what I mean) and a tongue sharp as a beak. What a heart, and like a lot of us what she lacks in courage she makes up for in determination (one of the lessons in the novel). She reminds me of one of those people you're gonna love and probably misunderstand a lot as she gets older, she's brimming with mystery. Her story alone is definitely worth the effort of the rest of the novel.
It's really an OK book, a lot better toward the end when less slowed down by pedantic asides and over-explanation. But even then, it was manipulative -- the trick of cliff-hanging the audience to heighten tension. Earlier, it was hard for me to get engaged in reading. It felt like watching one of those horror movies where stupid people get on your nerves doing obviously stupid things. The plot's obvious, so you need to *like* the characters. Yet some of the characters are incredibly dense, stubborn, and I thought far too stupid to be who they otherwise are in the mileu of this novel. Let alone deserve to *be* in a novel. I'd sigh, "Who cares?" Sure, they're characters ... but they'd not become people. They seemed tacked onto the novel, devices, as if the author had designed the book via an outline, thinking if it was complicated enough, if they were, it would show "depth of charater." Paradoxically, this is a work of the mind trying to show the heart.
Every character had moments, which drastically slowed down the story's pace, where they seemed to be given "flaws" (complexity) of character to make them "more human" ... but all it did was show the messy hand of the author. Sometimes it seemed de Lint would drag a character on stage just in order to have an excuse to explain some plot line. The author did a lot more telling than showing in this novel.
There's one good philosophic point he makes, though -- the crucial distinction between power and luck, and why to chose one over the other, how that makes a difference. And I liked how all the characters needed heart healing of some sort, and how that dove-tailed them together.
But it was weary (and faintly embarrassing) to wade through tedium: the author seemed to feel the need to keep having some character or other step up to elaborate. Maybe de Lint's gotten gun-shy about readers who've just "fallen off the turnip truck." Maybe he got hit with loads of "fans" asking him dumb questions at fan-coms. But I wish he'd give his readers more credit. Sometimes the authorial voice was fairly preening, pedantic, and showing off -- trivia, arch ironic wit, "insider's wisdom," all sorts of wink-wink-nudge-nudge stuff. Please. He threw everything into this one.
I sense there's a rabid fan base he writes these stories for. I wish he respected them for their knowledge more. But I couldn't shake the feeling of looking in on a clique, an in-crowd, faintly incestuous for all its mish-mashing of world myths. (And, boy, what mish-mashing!) Perhaps de Lint is their only window on the larger world of the imagination, but I think that's just his conceit.
For all that, though, the injection of the American Southwest is a welcome zest in the Newford series. And Bettina, her lobo, the cadejos, as well as the Creek sisters -- he made them live. They are the stuff good stories are made of. Memories, too.