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The Mystery Of Grace by by Charles De Lint

01/10/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy The Mystery Of Grace in the USA - or Buy The Mystery Of Grace in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 269 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1756-8).

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There have always been people who believe that there is another, secret world close to ours but invisible to most eyes. There are times, especially at Samhain and Beltane, when we can get glimpses of the other world, when the denizens can cross over. It is not difficult then to believe that magic can still be worked, that the old forces are still around and can be manipulated. In cities, it may not be a cat slinking amongst the dustbins, that old derelict may actually be a shaman. The possibilities are endless. One of the best urban fantasy novels is 'Wizard Of The Pigeons' by Megan Lindholm (who also writes as Robin Hobb). In her Seattle, it is the people who seem touched by madness who are also in touch with magic.

Perhaps the finest exponent of urban fantasy is Charles de Lint. Many of his novels and stories explore a landscape where gateways into the otherworld can be found within the city. Whereas most are oblivious to the intrusions, a few know and accept that the world is full of strangenesses. Many of his tales build on the myth and folk lore of the Native American. He also has the ability to bring to life extraordinary people who are often poor or damaged. It is at the low points in their lives that they can sometimes make the connection to the Otherworld.

'The Mystery Of Grace' is a poignant masterpiece. John Burns is an artist who is haunted by the death of his young brother many years ago. One Halloween, against his better judgement, his friends persuade him to go to a party at a club. There he meets Grace. In the morning, she disappears and, except that two of his friends had seen her, he would have been prepared to believe that she was a figment of his imagination.

Altagracia 'Grace' Quintero gives the impression of a feisty, scary young woman. She has tattoos over large portions of her body, including one of the saint she was named after on her shoulder. She is a car mechanic by trade, having learnt her way around the inside of a car from her abuelo, her grandfather. She has gained a reputation for restoring old cars, particularly Fords.

Grace is not as tough as she likes to appear. When her grandfather dies, she is knocked off-kilter. It is because of this that she goes out to buy a packet of cigarettes at the local store (she gave up smoking long ago) and is shot by a junkie trying to rob the store. When she wakes up in her own bed, she has difficulty believing it when Edna, a neighbour she has never seen before, tells her she is dead. She learns that she and a small group of people that died within a small area around her apartment block are trapped in a kind of limbo. Conchita, a waif who was knifed in a parking lot, tells her that they can go back to the real world for the night, twice a year, but no-one she knew when she was alive will recognise her.

The next time is in a couple of weeks, at Halloween. Crossing over is a disconcerting experience and she finds that Conchita is right. Her old friends mourn but do not see her. However, it is during this short time in the real world that she meets and falls in love with John Burns and realises that it will be six months before she can see him again.

Both John and Grace realise that there is something strange going on. Once John discovers that the woman he has fallen for died before he met her, his life acquires a focus it didn't have previously as he prepares to meet her the next time she can cross over. Other than anticipating her next meeting with John, Grace also realises that the place where she is, is an anomaly. She wants to find out why.

De Lint never writes simple stories, there are always layers and multiple themes. This is a moving story of love that is ultimately doomed but there is always a frisson of hope. The love is not just between John and Grace but also explores the consequences of a mother's love. Grace feels rejected by her mother after her father walked out. She turned to her grandfather for support while her mother retreated into the arms of the Catholic church. Her mother's faith caused Grace to discard hers, but now it is needed. The cause of the anomaly that keeps Grace's soul unable to move on is the destructive love another mother has for her son and her faith that her son will return. John's love for Grace gives him the faith to be there when she returns. Grace, with Conchita's help, has to rediscover faith in order to resolve the situation.

De Lint beautifully weaves together, magic and life, love and death. His characters have strength because of their circumstances. They often come from the lower levels of society, people who most of us do not even notice. This book deserves to be read by anyone who cares about people, but it is recommended that a box of tissues is kept close at hand if you are emotionally sensitive.

Pauline Morgan

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