Yarrow: Very early de Lint

Yarrow by Charles de Lint science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsYarrow by Charles de Lint science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsYarrow by Charles de Lint

I’d been meaning to read Yarrow (1986) for years. I loved Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, in which he tells the story of a painter touched by the Otherworld. And I’m a writer (or at least a wannabe one), not a visual artist, so I figured, “if I liked his artist book so much, how much more am I going to love his writer book?” Unfortunately, the answer is “not as much.” Yarrow is very early de Lint, and not my favorite book of his that I’ve read.

Yarrow is set in Ottawa and loosely follows Moonheart; the plots are standalone, but Tamson House is mentioned in passing. The protagonist of Yarrow is Cat Midhir, a fantasy author who has always gotten her ideas from her dreams, in which she travels to a magical realm of elves and gnomes who tell her tales to bring back to our world. Lately, though, Cat hasn’t been dreaming at all, and she’s hopelessly blocked on her latest novel, with a deadline looming. And worse, she misses her friends from the dream world.

This is more of an ensemble-cast novel than the basic premise suggests, however. De Lint introduces us to a large array of characters, of varying degrees of vividness (the book is too short to sufficiently develop some of them).

Yarrow by Charles de Lint science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIt turns out that Cat is not alone in her dreamlessness. An incubus is stalking Ottawa. The word “incubus” is never mentioned, but that’s the word I think best describes this villain. He steals dreams, he commits rape via mind control, and sometimes he kills, sucking out people’s entire souls. And Cat, with her unusually splendid dreams, is his favorite snack.

He’s creepy, and we spend a lot of time in his head, and in the head of a secondary character who’s almost as icky. We spend less time in Cat’s Otherworld than we might wish. Overall, the “feel” of Yarrow is that of a serial-killer thriller with magic, rather than the dreamier stories de Lint would write later. I felt that I could see hints of his later work through the trees, as it were, but we’re not quite there yet.

One thing I did like about Yarrow was the role that isolation and community played in the story. At the book’s beginning, all of the central characters are pretty solitary, with no one to talk about heavy subjects with, and that keeps them from figuring out what’s happening. It’s only when several of them reach out to each other and create bonds of friendship that they have any hope of defeating the villain.

Overall, Yarrow isn’t de Lint’s best work. I would recommend Memory and Dream, Jack the Giant-Killer, or Someplace to be Flying over it. It’s a short, quick read, though, and an interesting peek into his development as a writer.

Yarrow — (1986) Publisher: Cat lived in a land of dreams, crossing over the borders of sleep into a magic realm where gnomes lived among standing stones and selchies beneath the waves, where antlered Mynfel walked by moonlight; and the harper Kothlen told stories of the ancient days.. When she woke from her travels she told her own stories about the Otherworld. Her publisher called her novels ‘fantasy’, but Mynfel’s domain seemed more real than the streets of Ottawa. until a thief came out of the night and stole away all her dreams.

 


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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5 comments

  1. I can’t remember the name of the other book (or, maybe it was this one) where he said in the foreword that it was intentionally a darker book than the ones he would write later. The one I’m thinking of has a cop and a serial killer.

    Over all, his more to more dreamlike and more positive stories pleased me.

    • Paul Connelly /

      I have a vague memory that The Little Country had a mob hitman in it. But that may be misfiring neurons.

  2. Katharine Ott /

    I read “Dingo” by de Lint several years ago and thought it was pretty good, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1270731041, especially for middle school readers exploring sci-fi or magical realism.

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