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Spirits In The Wires by Charles De Lint

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pub: TOR. 448 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $38.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-312-87398-0.

check out website: www.tor.com

Once upon a time, people invoked the supernatural to explain phenomena they didn't understand. A person suffering from a stroke was elf-shot, a victim of a malicious being loosing off arrows indiscriminately. A milch cow ran dry because wicked fairies were stealing the milk or it fell sick because the crone from the next village was using her evil eye.

Spirits In The Wires by Charles De LintThe chimney caught fire because the hearth spirits were dissatisfied with their offerings of ale and oats. We think we know better now but what if the hobs and pixies and the rest of their ilk were still out there but we didn't notice them because our sceptical mind sets prevent us? If they can travel between our world and Faerie at will through the borderlands that separate them, what else might be out there?

For many years, Charles de Lint has been writing urban fantasy, allowing supernatural beings access to the city landscape and the folks who live there. He has peopled the Crowsea district of the city of Newford with believers, sceptics and magic. Those familiar with his work will already have met some of them. The latest in his cycle of stories set in Newford is 'Spirits In The Wires'.

Here he takes the 'What if...?' a step further.
Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic and although he was referring to the meeting between high-tech and low-tech cultures, the majority of people today have no idea how their computers work, so they might as well be magic. So with the juxtaposition of cyberspace and the borderlands, there is bound to be a crossover.

When Holly Rue and her friends created the Wordwood website to gather literature together and make it accessible to all, they did not foresee that it would grow exponentially as others accessed to added and to it and evolved until it seemed to be running itself. That is until Aaron Goldstein blackmails Jackson Hart into taking the website down with a virus. At the moment of the crash, anyone on-line to the Wordwood disappears. Christy Riddell watches as his girlfriend, Saskia Madding, disintegrates into pixels and is absorbed by his monitor.

Anyone familiar with the Newford cycle will know Christy as the author of supernatural stories based on things he has observed or he has been told. His friends include people who are either magical themselves or believe in the supernatural. One is Christiana. She is Christy's shadow constructed from all the parts of his personality that he, as a seven-year-old, did not want. She may have started as this opposite self - female to his male, dark to his fair, wilful against his reserve - but over the years she has matured, developing her own personality.
Holly is another.

She now runs a bookstore and has a hob as a partner. She is not fazed by magic, accepting it as fact. She, Christy and others, some of whom have appeared in previous volumes, set out to discover what has gone wrong with the Wordwood site and to try and bring back the disappeared. To do this, they have to find their way through the borderlands. Their guides are Borrible Jones, a tinker, and Robert Lonnie whose music can open gateways between worlds.

As a novel, 'Spirits In The Wires' also explores the idea of reality. Not only is Christiana not born in a traditional way, neither is Saskia. She was created as a functioning person with memories and a career by the spirit of the Wordwood. Do their origins make them less real as people? Is magic less real because you do not believe in it? Is Dick, the hob, unreal because you cannot see him, or cyberspace because you cannot capture or measure it?

While the development of the characters and the description of the events in urban Newford are as excellent as ever, some readers may have problems, especially if they are newcomers to de Lint's work. Christy and friends are not newly sprung in these pages but have previous histories and at times it can be like being in a room with elderly relatives reminiscing about a past you have not experienced.

By all means, read de Lint. He has an imagination, style and a grasp of myth that should be enjoyed but don't start here. His collection 'Dreams Underfoot' is a good introduction to Newford and its inhabitants and is an excellent precursor to 'Spirits In The Wires'. The novel, 'Some Place To Be Flying', is also a good introduction, and passing reference to events in it are made here.

'Spirits In The Wires' is not quite as satisfying as some of de Lint's other works, mostly because of the amount of time characters spend in the borderlands. This is much to like traditional fantasy and is woollier in texture. de Lint is best where there is gritty realism touched by magic rather than the other way round.

Y

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