Muse And Reverie is a collection of thirteen short stories set in Charles de Lint’s Newford universe. As with most collections, some of these tales are of better quality than others but, it being Charles de Lint, there are more hits than misses.
The collection opens with ‘Somewhere In My Head There Is A Painting Box’, which sets the tone nicely, dealing with a situation where the worlds of human and faery collide. There is nothing new here but the descriptions of the woodland are graceful and show as genuine a love for the natural wonders around us as Robert Holdstock did in Mythago Wood.
The real diamond in the collection was ‘Riding Shotgun’ – it presents a haunting tale of loss, alcoholism and how the choices that we make determine who we are and the passage of our lives. At a couple of points, it became a little obvious, but overall it has immense impact, especially since it was written in first person perspective.
‘Sweet Forget-Me-Not’ was another highlight for me: a wistful and poignant story about first love and loss. Here de Lint deals in his usual sensitive manner with bullying and racism. Ahmad and Neenie – the human and the faery, respectively - were a compelling couple to read about and the ending left me feeling more than a little sad.
I also enjoyed ‘A Crow Girls’ Christmas’. This story was brief but very festive (even read in the height of summer!) and incredibly enchanting. Maida and Zia – the eponymous Crow Girls – are delightfully kooky and amusing. Long time readers of de Lint will recognise these two from his novels and will no doubt enjoy catching up with these “fierce, candy cane-eating outlaw girls.”
My particular misses were ‘Refinerytown’ and ‘Newford Spooks Squad’. In the former, there was still much to enjoy but I found it a little disjointed and hard to engage with. Diesel, the eight inch oil refinery fairy, is ravishing and mysterious – however, her presence in the story was introduced thanks to the slimmest of reasons and I found it hard to suspend my disbelief. The latter simply stood out like a sore thumb, considering it is a tale about Hellboy. In any other collection it would have been an effective and tense story but here it was so far removed from the fairytale quality of the other stories that it actually jarred with me.
I am a huge fan of de Lint and have read many of his novels and other collections with great enjoyment. Sitting down to Muse And Reverie was like joining a friend for a gossip with a hot chocolate – warm and cosy, familiar yet always magical. De Lint’s writing is comical, absurd, lyrical and never less than beautiful. If you just want to dip in and tackle one tale at a time, your experience will be as rewarding as reading the book from cover to cover.
This review originally appeared in Vector #264 - with thanks to Martin and Tor Books for sending it through for review.