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Jack of Kinrowan: Jack the Giant-Killer and Drink Down the Moon Paperback – July 2, 1999
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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“There is no better writer now than Charles de Lint at bringing out the magic in contemporary life....The best of the post-Stephen King contemporary fantasists, the one with the clearest vision of the possibilities of magic in a modern setting.” ―Orson Scott Card
“A superb storyteller..de Lint has a flair for tales that blur the lines between the mundane world and magical reality.” ―Library Journal
“You open a de Lint story, and like the interior of a very genial Pandora's box, the atmosphere is suddenly full of deep woods and quaint city streets and a magic that's nowhere near so far removed as Middle Earth.” ―James P. Blaylock
From the Publisher
"In de Lint's capable hands, modern fantasy becomes something other than escapism. It becomes folk song, the stuff of urban myth." --The Phoenix Gazette
"There is no better writer now than Charles de Lint at bringing out the magic in contemporary life. . . . The best of the post-Stephen King contemporary fantasists, the one with the clearest vision of the possibilities of magic in a modern setting." --Orson Scott Card
"A superb storyteller . . . de Lint has a flair for tales that blur the lines between the mundane world and magical reality." --Library Journal
"You open a de Lint story, and like the interior of a very genial Pandora's box, the atmosphere is suddenly full of deep woods and quaint city streets and a magic that's nowhere near so far removed as Middle Earth." --James P. Blaylock
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This is an omnibus of sorts, collecting two novels based around the same character, Jacky Kinrowan, a young woman recently reeling from a breakup who decides to cut her hair and fall into the world of faerie, in that order but not intentionally so. Along the way she finds she has to deal with the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and their endless war against each other, navigate her role as "The Jack" despite the fact she has no magical abilities although she does have the accidental luck of Inspector Gadget on her side. Oh, and she's Canadian, which means she's probably nicer than anyone you know.
These are somewhat early novels by De Lint but not super early in his career (apparent beloved fan favorite "Moonheart" was published almost three years before the first novel here, in 1984) and they definitely come across as a combination of someone still figuring out his style and a collection of moments that remind you of other, better moments in other fantasy novels (even ones that were done later). In De Lint's world, much like a lot of other fantasy writers, the faerie world exists alongside ours but can't really be seen but once seen brings the protagonist into a world of magic and wonder and danger that involves them in a situation they don't ask for but with a variety of pluck and friends in the right places, they manage to overcome all the stuff that should be working against them.
The problem is that a lot of it feels weightless, without much depth to it. Problems abound from the opening scenes of "Jack, the Giant Killer", where a boyfriend bereft Jacky witnesses the Wild Hunt, a bunch of guys on motorcycles, which only reminded me of a similar and more effective scene in Matt Wagner's comic series "Mage". It doesn't take long for Jacky to get involved in a rescue situation where she has to save the daughter of a powerful ruler from the Unseelie Court, enlisting the help of new friends in the process and relying on the fierce sassy attitude of her best friend, Kate.
De Lint has clearly done his research and even if he does get bonus points for setting the action in Ottawa of all places, there are times when it seems that the story exists to depict the various members of the world of faerie and give us reasons to go meet them all, leading eventually to slight "plot coupon" feel, where Jacky has to collect the new magical object or talk to the next interesting person to move forward in her plans, most of which seem to fall into place by happenstance anyway. She comes across as nice and willing, but innocuous (with the hint of romance between her and another faerie oddly chaste and lacking almost all chemistry anyway) so for the most part you're more impressed at the scenery, as the parade of various denizens of the mystical realms appear to either help or harass poor Jacky. The problem is that De Lint often has a hard time making this feel magical. Where a John Crowley can imbue such a situation with a dreamy weight that feels like a half-remembered dream or Neil Gaiman can impart a feeling of impending lost innocence and deadly menace, De Lint mostly plods along without breaking a sweat too much, relying more that we want to see Jacky succeed because her and Kate are nice people and the other court is capital E evil than anything anyone does or earns. While he gets credit for including two women as lead characters, stripped of any sense of the personal that the best fantasy can have (whether it's Matt Wagner basically writing a metaphorical version of his autobiography in "Mage" or Emma Bull constructing a version of her life that never existed in "War for the Oaks" and making it feel real through her connection with the music scene) you're left with a story where the magic is all in the funny names and bizarre situations. While Jacky does her best to struggle it never feels like anything is at stake in the same way that "War for the Oaks" where the decision to stick it out versus running for her life felt like a choice with real consequences for everyone involved. It all lopes along easily but the closest it comes to actual magic is the character of the gruagargh, the only person that seems to have a sense of weight and age and mystery that the rest of the novel seems to lack, the hint that there are mysteries that can't be explained and probably won't be, something that "Little, Big" and even Holdstock's "Mythago Wood" seem to do effortlessly. The only thing effortless seems to be the climax which achieves Gaiman levels of "But it's the journey that's important, right?" But it's a pleasant read, even if it's not super memorable.
Unfortunately once the shock of the new wears off, you're left with another story in pretty much the same style when he returns to the characters for "Drink Down the Moon". Jacky and Kate have roles in their new jobs but for the most part the story focuses on new characters, a fiddler that gets caught up in events when someone tries to steal the power of the moon, and a friend who is half faerie but has a sister who is fully in the realm of faerie. De Lint spends too much time focusing on them and not enough on what could be the far more interesting story, Jacky screwing up her first real crisis and all the consequences that stem from that, and how everyone has to deal with the fact that the girl in charge they're all trusting to solve their problems doesn't have the slightest idea what she's doing. But again it all slides down easily, as everyone romps around in situations that don't hold any surprises. As lacking in inner lives as Jacky and Kate are at times, Kate's wacky best friend shtick is light years more entertaining than the often colorless supporting characters that the novel introduces. Even the villain, who is supposed to be dangerous enough to ruin everything, holds none of the mystery and swaggering menace that he barely gathers to himself before he's revealed and afterwards isn't much better than a B-grade villain ranting and raving (his one trick, briefly taking Jacky out of the picture, isn't something he apparently is able to repeat even after he's in a position to do it again), giving everyone time to fumble together a way to stop him. And once again, the climax comes far too easily and quickly, ending it on a note so lightweight you might find yourself wondering if you somehow missed the climax (a variation on "music brings out the real magic" done far better and more viscerally in the rock and roll oriented "War for the Oaks").
But both these novels stand as missed opportunities . . . given a chance to really evoke a world of wonder and mystery, De Lint often seems like he's coasting on our memories of other, better novels and is willing to hope that his audience is so eager to read more stories like what they already adore that they'll devour anything that even partially resembles it, even if the result is a more hollow facsimile, trapping the echoes of other works inside itself and hoping that if the structure warps the sound enough, you won't recognize it from its source. If you've exhausted your fantasy library and absolutely have to read something that mentions faeries then this is a harmless but toothless option, never raising its pulse over "pleasant". But there's other work far more worth your time, perhaps even stuff by De Lint himself. This is merely a shadow.
The story is very formulaic, with flat, good versus evil characters and no one in between. When Jacky--the main character--realizes the magical world exists and how the Seelie court is being brutally attacked, she is able--with no magic of her own and no forethought and planning--to defeat the Unseelie court, when for years the great wizards, lords, Gruagaghs, could do nothing to stop them. De Lint tries to show that through bravery and willingness to sacrifice yourself for the common good you can defeat your foe. However, this coming of age story is very childlike, shallow, predictable, and lacks stimulation. If you're a youth and new to the fantasy genre, this might be a decent book, otherwise I would steer clear. I gave this book two stars only because some of the ideas in the novel were interesting, even if they were not fully developed. Such as: 1. There are supernatural beings that live among us, but because we don't believe in them we have lost the ability to see them. 2. That humans have a great tendency to believe in the bad supernatural creatures (ghosts, undead, witches, etc.) versus the good (fairies, elves etc.).
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