Charles de Lint, Quicksilver & Shadow -- Collected Early Stories, Vol. 2 (Subterranean Press, 2004)

Come in. I beg your forgiveness for the messy state of my office. Early fall here at Green Man is when we get buried with review material, and that pile has just some of the more interesting items that have arrived in the past few weeks. Yes, there are Jim Henson's The Storyteller DVDs, and that is an extra copy of de Lint's The Blue Girl so feel free to take it to read. The puppets? They're from the good folks at Folkmanis -- my favorite is the eighteen inch tall mouse in the vest! Yes, even the chocolate 'coins' came in from a record company promoting -- shudder! -- their ever-so-sweet new singer-songwriter. I kept the chocolate and tossed the CD into the give-away pile. But the best arrival was the thick plain blue volume that is Quicksilver & Shadow -- Collected Early Stories, Vol. 2, the latest Subterranean Press collection from Charles de Lint.

Another year, another collection of tales from this writer of fantasy. Boring? Hardly. As always de Lint impresses me with his ability to weave a tale that holds my interest from the beginning to the end. Indeed Quicksilver & Shadow is a much more exciting collection than A Handful of Coppers: Collected Early Stories, Volume 1: Heroic Fantasy was for me. Now Grey Walker who reviewed that volume did say something I wholeheartedly agree with: 'I haven't read every bit of fiction Charles de Lint has written, but I'm working on it. This newest collection of stories, A Handful of Coppers, brings me a little closer', so A Handful of Coppers was worth reading for the sheer experience of seeing how he was early on in his writing career. I find his heroic fantasy at best weak, but I must note that most heroic fantasy bores me silly, so I would not expect him to be otherwise. The only truly great heroic fantasy I've read is Fritz Leiber's Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser series where both the lead characters are more anti-heroic than they are heroic.

(Digression. I discovered in that pile that we have here all three of the Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser hardcover collections which White Wolf did a decade ago. I really need to find a better filing system!)

Like Grey, I've read nearly everything de Lint has written. Much of it has been immensely pleasurable, some was so-so, and just a bit was so awful that I had trouble finishing it. I've got more of his work than I have of anyone other than Ursula Le Guin. I often re-read one of his Newford novels, say Someplace to Be Flying, The Blue Girl or Forests of the Heart when I'm looking for a pleasurable read on a cold winter night, sometimes dipping into one of his many fine collections such as Tapping the Dream Tree or Moonlight & Vines. He has, without doubt, became a much better, more interesting writer over the decades. So what do I think of this collection? Short answer -- it's quite good.

The longer answer is more complex. In one place or another, I had already read nearly everything here. No, that's not surprising as I started reading him twenty years ago! 'Death Leaves An Echo' is a chilling story akin to the work he published under the nom de plume of Samuel M. Key and which I read in Cafe Purgatorium, an anthology of stories edited by David G Hartwell that had stories by Charles de Lint, Ray Garton, and Dana M Anderson. Checking the author's Web site, I see that Cafe Purgatorium has not been reprinted since that time. Likewise this is the first time that all three of his Bordertown tales, 'Stick', 'Berlin', and 'May This Be Your Last Sorrow' are gather together in the same volume. You could seek out the original B-Town anthologies as they are affectionately known -- and no, you cannot borrow my copies! -- but it'd cost you dearly in fairy coin as they are very expensive these days, i.e. a copy of Life on the Border can fetch over a hundred dollars online! More importantly, you'd miss reading his musings on the B-Town universe ('The imagery was fun -- part Child Ballad, part MTV...') and I certainly didn't know that 'Stick' was his 'tip of the hat to British accordion player John Kirkpatrick and the other musicians who brought Morris dance music kicking and screaming into the rock world with albums like Morris On.'

What else is worth reading? In the Contemporary & Dark Fantasy section, 'L'esprit de la Belle Mariatte' is chillingly good tale of love frustrated and why the dead really should not be bother the living, whereas 'We are Dead Together' is interesting but feels like a fragment of a longer work that wasn't finished. Those of you who have read his Mulengro novel will note this tale is another riff off the Rom culture. 'Death Leaves An Echo' is a truly great tale as good as any of the shorter stories that Stephen King did in his prime and certainly don't skip 'The Soft Whisper of Midnight Snow' a tale influenced by Charles Grant, a master of horror writing. In the section he somewhat oddly calls 'Science Fiction', I recommend 'Raven Sings a Medicine Way, Coyote Steals the Pollen', a fine mythic tale set in the desert Southwest where his later short novel, Medicine Road, happens. A sad and sweet tale is to be found in 'May This Be Your Last Sorrow' where a gargoyle is more than merely unfeeling stone. 'A Tattoo on Her Heart' has one of the coolest lead offs I've ever read:

Night fell and the tribes hit the street. Their yelps and howls filled the night air -- a cacophony of mock beast sounds to match the beast masks they wore. Underpinning the dissonance was the insistent rhythm of palms dancing across skin-headed drums, of hands banging sticks against each other, or cans and sheets of metal. Mouths lipped whistles and flutes to cast out brittle handfuls of high skirling notes. Fingers plucked chords from oddly shaped guitarlike instruments, or else drew bows across tightly wound strings to wake weird yowls and moans.

I read 'A Tattoo on Her Heart' in his Waifs and Strays collection, but his Web site says it first was published in Pulphouse, Issue Eight well over a decade ago. Try finding that publication now!

So do you need Quicksilver & Shadow? Will your library be better for having this in it? Will you be happier for having read these stories? Oh, I hope so! All de Lint fans will want this work, but if you are a serious reader of contemporary fantasy -- and I assume you are or wouldn't be reading this review, would you? -- you will find more than enough good reading herein to justify the price. Oh, did I mention the artwork on the cover is by MaryAnn Harris, his wife and musical partner? It's a lovely piece of artwork: we have it in the rotating gallery of artwork on our main index page because we really like it. You can see it here. Her art perfectly complements his writing so that the design of the actual physical object enhances my -- and I hope your -- reading pleasure. I've no doubt that Subterranean Press is a class act when it comes to publishing really wonderful objects d'art, errr, books. I know that some of you are just interested in the text, but I really do think a finely designed and printed book is a joy, so Quicksilver & Shadow is one collection which I will savor for a very long time!

 

[Cat Eldridge]