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Charles de Lint – Moonheart

November 4, 2008

121. Moonheart by Charles de Lint (1984)

Read By: Paul Michael Garcia
Length: 20h 00m (496 pages)

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 17 September 2008
Finished: 09 October 2008

Merlin, shamans, a
house that can disappear, and
X-files, all in one!

Summary: The story starts with Sara Kendall, a young woman who discovers some strange items in the storeroom of an Ottawa antique store she runs with her uncle, Jamie Tamsin. The objects are interesting in themselves — a detailed painting depicting the meeting between a Native American shaman and a European bard, a bone disk with strange engravings on it, and a gold ring encased in clay — but even more extraordinary is the way that these artifacts seem to tug on Sara’s consciousness, pulling her into the forest primeval, into a world of magic, mystery and danger.

Sara soon realizes that this danger is not only coming from the ancient evil that stalks the other world, but also from her own world. A secret branch of the RCMP investigating paranormal activity is looking for Thomas Hengwr, a one-time associate of her uncle. When the bone disk gets linked to Hengwr, then Sara, Jamie, and other residents of the vast and mysterious Tamsin House are put under investigation by an Inspector Tucker — who is also being unknowingly tailed by other more sinister forces. Before the situation can come to a head on the streets of Ottawa, however, the characters find themselves facing a conflict that is older still, and a hatred and malice that spans time and worlds and threatens everything they hold dear. However, they are not without allies — residents of the Otherworld who also oppose the ancient evil with all of the magics at their disposal.

Review: Moonheart is unlike any other fantasy novel I’ve read: it’s a unique blend of ancient legend and modern lives and sensibilities (well, if the early 80s can still be considered modern.) It has elements of urban fantasy, strong underpinnings of Native American and Celtic mythology, and more than a hint of The X-Files-type government conspiracy thrown into the mix, and yet, it defies simple categorization into any of these genres.

The number one strength of this book, I thought, was its characters. Sara, Jamie, Tucker, Kieran (an apprentice of Thomas Hengwr), and Blue (an ex-biker resident of Tamsin House) all felt familiar — not clichéd, but like people I already knew. They were detailed and multi-layered, and immediately sympathetic: their peril drew me into the story from the beginning, and I have a feeling that they’ll remain memorable long after I finished the book.

However, while the central characters were excellently drawn, the supporting cast suffers from sheer numbers. Between the people in the government, the RCMP, the other residents of Tamsin House, the human inhabitants of the Other World, the supernatural inhabitants of the Other World, etc., there are a whole host of people (and spirits) who appear for a minute or two, and then disappear for most of the rest of the book. Personally, I had a hard time keeping the names, affiliations, and motivations of the tertiary characters straight, and felt like they at times distracted from the main story of Tamsin House and its inhabitants.

There was a similar overabundance of themes, plots, and motifs running through the book. I can certainly appreciate Charles de Lint’s intent to interweave ancient mythology into the modern world to give both a deeper resonance, and on the whole, it works well. However, there is just so much going on — not only the battle of good and evil and the traveling between worlds, but also multiple types of magic, two separate romances, Celtic legend, the effect of Europeans on Native American beliefs and culture, political conspiracy, time travel, police procedural, and so on — that some pieces can’t help but fall through the cracks. De Lint mostly keeps a deft hold on these disparate threads, weaving them together into an exciting and satisfactory conclusion. Unfortunately, several subplots simply don’t have enough time devoted to them to give them the depth and completeness they deserve, leaving me feeling a little scattered. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Overall, I did really enjoy listening to this novel — it may have needed a little tightening in places, but the themes and ideas it tackles are ambitious and original, and the story exciting and absorbing. This was my first de Lint novel, but it won’t be my last.

This audiobook review was originally published on The SF Site.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bart’s Bookshelf, Green Man Review, Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Sara Kendall once read somewhere that the tale of the world is like a tree.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2008 3:12 am

    That pretty much sums up a lot of my feelings on the book.

  2. November 4, 2008 9:51 am

    Bart – Well, considering your review is a large part of what convinced me to pick it up in the first place, I guess it’s good we agree! :)

  3. November 4, 2008 2:05 pm

    Nicki – What you said about the supporting characters being many in number and only getting small glimpses of them reminds me of the book I just finished – Testimony by Anita Shreve. Obviously a completely different genre and book but the same could be said of that aspect of the book.

  4. November 5, 2008 10:50 am

    Shana – I don’t mind hordes of supporting characters in general, my problem comes when we only get a sentence or two from them in the early parts of the book, but then we’re expected to remember who they are and what they’re about when they pop up four hundred pages later. Was that the case in Testimony as well?

  5. March 16, 2012 1:53 pm

    I love Charles de Lint’s writing, as he is able to create quirky yet believable characters who demonstrate that there is still a sense of magic and wonder in the world. I really enjoyed Blue’s character.

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