De Lint gives us a folk lore-like story about Lillian, a girl who loves all the creatures in Tanglewood Forest–the real ones, and the ones who may be only stories. When Lillian is bit by a deadly snake, the cats of the forest turn her into a kitten to save her life. Lillian is offered what seems to be an easy and complete solution to her problem…but as Rumpelstiltskin would have warned her, magic always has a price, dearie. When that price turns out to be higher than she ever imagined, Lillian must find a way to change things–even if it means she’ll go back to being a cat.
I finished this book several days ago…and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I was a little disappointed to not see de Lint’s usual edge. It was a different style than I expect from him–but it is a book for a younger audience, and the folk lore style that is here is very well done. So that’s not really a complaint, though perhaps a warning for de Lint fans who may also have different expectations.
The plot is a little more of a problem. Everything progresses in a reasonable fashion, but once I got to the end, I felt like the entire midsection–the bulk of the book–was really just a divergence. That’s especially a shame because that section ends with Lillian deciding to make (what seems to me) a significant sacrifice for a loved one–and I don’t feel like de Lint gave that the emotional power it should have had. If the midsection had been about Lillian’s growth to be able to make this huge sacrifice, great! But it didn’t quite read that way for me.
All right, so much for cons. On the pro side, the book moves along in a quick, easy read (so even a divergence doesn’t take long) that stays engaging. There are a number of intriguing, folk lore characters that are fascinating to read about, from the comical Fox to the horrid Bear People to the mysterious Apple Tree Man and even more mysterious Father of Cats. And all cats are pretty mysterious, of course!
Lillian is a likable heroine and I love her love of nature. She’d fit in beautifully with L. M. Montgomery’s heroines, who love their wild surroundings and leave out milk for cats or for fairies. Lillian is a little rougher around the edges, a little more hands-on than Montgomery’s heroines, but that probably improves her for a modern reader (with all due respect to Anne, Emily and the rest).
The best part of the book, though? It’s illustrated, with gorgeous illustrations by Charles Vess. Every chapter opens with an animal twined around the first letter, and every few pages there’s a full or half-page illustration breaking up the text. The pictures are lovely soft water colors that give so much warmth and heart to the story.
So consider yourself warned that this is folklore, not urban fantasy, and the plot makes some strange choices…but it’s a good read anyway, and a visually beautiful book.
Buy it here: The Cats of Tanglewood Forest