Review: ‘Moonheart’ by Charles de Lint

Blurb from GoodReads.com:

When Sara and Jamie discovered the seemingly ordinary artifacts, they sensed the pull of a dim and distant place. A world of mists and forests, of ancient magics, mythical beings, ageless bards…and restless evil.

Now, with their friends and enemies alike–Blue, the biker; Keiran, the folk musician; the Inspector from the RCMP; and the mysterious Tom Hengyr–Sara and Jamie are drawn into this enchanted land through the portals of Tamson House, that sprawling downtown edifice that straddles two worlds.

Sweeping from ancient Wales to the streets of Ottawa today,Moonheart will entrance you with its tale of this world and the other one at the very edge of sight…and the unforgettable people caught up in the affairs of both. A tale of music, and motorcycles, and fey folk beyond the shadows of the moon. A tale of true magic; the tale of Moonheart.

Review: 

I know, I know, another day, another Charles de Lint review…but this one was so immersive and at times enjoyable that I just had to review it. The basic premise is that an antique/curio store worker named Sara Kendall lives in a mansion called Tamson House in Ottawa, a house which has its own mystical presence, and ways of protecting itself against intruders. She lives there with Jamie Tams, her kindly, bookish uncle, forever on an academically-minded spiritual quest, Blue the biker with a heart of gold, and Sally, his artist girlfriend. One day she finds a beautiful painting- of a Native American and a Celt- and a Native American medicine bag amongst the junk in the shop’s store room. Inside the pouch is also an antique gold ring, which fits her perfectly.

Unbeknownst to her, the ring connects her to the mystical bard figure of Taliesin, a folk musician/trainee magician named Kieran Foy, and the mysterious, wizened ‘wise man’, Thomas Hengyr who has taken Kieran on as his apprentice. The surge in magic from the ring means they all become hunted by a paranormal research agency, and their only refuge is in the forest-strewn spirit realms, both Celtic and Native American.

If that sounds confusing, well, I have to admit, it was at times. I felt as though there were FAR too many characters, that it was a bit too long, and that the parts written from the perspective of the paranormal investigators chasing them lagged and felt dull and clunky compared to some amazing scenes within the spirit world. If you read this, feel free to skip these chapters because they add pretty much NOTHING to the plot, they just drag it down, and the dialogue is at times cliched, particularly the dialogue of the Native American tribe and Taliesin himself. I did however like the set up at the beginning- the descriptions of Tamson House (which I remembered from de Lint’s Newford stories) and Sara’s store in particular- although I didn’t need all the details about how Sara’s well off enough to not need to work for a living. That just felt like too much- it slowed the story down. I became really fond of Blue, though- it would have been so easy to paint him as just another biker stereotype, and I liked that beneath that he was softer, caring- he cooks for the whole gang at one point- and he was also spiritual (having spent time on a Navajo reservation in the past.) I wish we could have seen more of him. I kind of love him. (Hmmm…spinoff novel, perhaps? Pretty please?)

I also liked Kieran Foy, the drifter who Thomas broke out of prison, but I found Sara naive at times, and sometimes annoying and even offensive. (At one point, she wears her hair in twin braids- deliberately- so that she can look ‘Indian.’ Um…cultural appropriation, anyone? She also describes, to a NATIVE AMERICAN, her love of ‘playing cowboys and Indians’ when she was younger. *Facepalm.*) Stuff like this is not great to read, but this book was written in the 90s, and therefore I think it’s safe to say some of the concepts within it are a bit dated or not as tactful as they could have been. I can totally see why people would find phrases/descriptions like that offensive, though- it left a bad taste in my own mouth. I also found de Lint’s depiction of Native Americans within the spirit realm too stylized/romanticized and ‘safe.’ It reminded me a bit of The Song of Hiawatha– pretty, but hardly realistic.

Having said all that, the Native American-influenced parts were on the whole entertaining and intriguing. I really liked the character of Ha’kan’ta and the description of her bear totem and her ‘sky walk’ with Kieran. In particular, Ha’kan’ta’s council scene was memorable and inventive, and a good exploration of tribal council politics. I enjoyed the every growing threat from ‘Ma’le’ka’- the nameless, mysterious ‘Dread-that-Walks’, a malevolent power that hunts Sara and Kieran, yet I’m not sure we really needed it to have its own viewpoint. It felt kind of ‘flung in there’ and unnecessary, when there were already about ten different viewpoints.

I also liked how Moonheart subverted a lot of my expectations- e.g. (SPOILER) for Sara and Kieran to get together, that Taliesin was a bad guy, that Kieran’s own totem would be a bear (SPOILER– it’s not) etc, etc. I felt as though the mix of Celtic and Native myths worked better than in Forests of the Heart, as it was less of a higgedly-piggedly melting pot, less confusing and elaborate, and yet Forests of the Heart is probably the work most like Moonheart in terms of theme and mythology. At times this was an immersive and engrossing novel, a fully-fledged flight of the imagination, and a skilfully rendered urban fantasy with a spiritual edge. Overall, I enjoyed this very much- it reminded me why I am, after all, such a huge de Lint fan. A much recommended novel.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10

Read if you enjoyed: Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint

Favourite character: A tie between Kieran Foy and Blue (*dreamy sigh*)

Image via demoniclour on Tumblr

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