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Promises To Keep by Charles de Lint

01/02/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Promises To Keep in the USA - or Buy Promises To Keep in the UK

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pub: Tachyon. 192 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61696-019-3.

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Originally, the term Urban Fantasy was applied to stories where the mystical, magical or fey encroached on ordinary life within the larger conurbations of our planet. Megan Lindholm’s ‘Wizard Of The Pigeons’ was an excellent example of this where people who would normally be dismissed as vagrants or with other problems were not as they seemed. Those who were largely ignored or avoided were actually touched by the fey, connected to the magical underpinning of the city – in this case, Seattle. Then along came the vampires and the werewolves who made themselves noticeable to the general public. Unfortunately, these have also been dubbed Urban Fantasy. They are in fact a different breed aimed at a different audience as many have a romantic or sexual component. True Urban Fantasy is much grittier and draws in the legends and folktales of our ancestors and gives them substance.

Charles de Lint has always written tales along the edge of fantasy. Inhabiting his city of Newford are creatures and places that invade your dreams or are only glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. Some of ancestry of apparently normal people lies in the mystical. Those still in touch with their roots can touch the magic of the Earth. Most of the inhabitants are unaware of what is there. For the reader, it is a journey into mystery.

Some characters recur in de Lint’s work, often those living on the edge between the mundane world and magical. One of these is Jilly Coppercorn. ‘The Onion Girl’ published in 2001 had Jilly as a focal character as she recovered from an accident but gave us the idea of a character as a many-layered construct and that peeling off the masks we build up around us will eventually take us down to the sources of our attitudes through the events that have shaped our lives. ‘Promises To Keep’ (originally published in 2007) also has Jilly at its heart. This novel starts by Jilly meeting a friend from her past. Donna Birch was at one time the only person who she trusted. As long buried memories surface, we discover the truth about Jilly’s early life and how the meeting with the Grasso Street Angel gave her hope and enough self-confidence to turn her life around. Her chosen course is not easy, she has to fight for everything she wants but has the determination to do it. Then Donna introduces her to her friends and a different world. Suddenly, Jilly is offered everything she could ever want – a studio, a nice flat, an allowance from an unknown benefactor. It seems too good to be true. As Jilly begins to doubt her new found good fortune, she forces herself to assess what she really wants and especially how important the promises she has made are and whether she can walk away from them.

Jilly’s story is an inspiring one. She has had the worst possible starts in life. When she is at her lowest point she learns to trust again. For Jilly, this story could only have taken place in Newford with its magic at the edge. For others who find themselves in similar situations, it is a promise that there is always someone on your side. The only problem is that the youngsters who need this kind of hope are not going to read this book.

Like all de Lint’s work there are layers within the book. Jilly is not only an Onion Girl, these books need peeling back, too, to find their inner cores.

Pauline Morgan

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This book has 29 votes in the sci-fi charts

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