Katy from A Library Mama recently guest posted about her favorite fairy tale retellings, and I was delighted to hear about a Jack the Giant-Killer retelling from Charles de Lint. That one went straight on my list! The only copy the library had was an omnibus, Jack of Kinrowan, which combines Jack the Giant-Killer and its sequel, Drink Down the Moon…so naturally I wound up reading them both! Perfect for Once Upon a Time. My favorite de Lint tends to be his urban fantasies, and these were classic examples.
Jacky Rowan, midway through a personal crisis, stumbles on a gang of supernatural bikers, the modern-day Wild Hunt. Jacky finds herself on the fringes of Faerie, a world of hobs and goblins existing invisibly side-by-side with the mortal world. There are deep troubles in Faerie, with the Unseelie Court growing in strength, fed by mortal man’s belief in the darker side of stories. Jacky impetuously volunteers to help…and once you’ve seen Faerie–and Faerie has seen you–there’s no turning back.
I have to start by saying how much I love that Jack the Giant-Killer is a girl! Jacky is promptly accepted by the denizens of Faerie as a Jack, a wily trickster; the designation is part role, part title and part birthright, but gender doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference. Jacky is believable as someone who is both out of her depth but trying to rise to the occasion–and generally managing, with a lot of luck to help. Luck, of course, is a classic feature of any fairy tale Jack.
If there’s anything I found less believable, it was Jacky’s initial plunge into the situation. There were moments early on when she still could have walked away, and I don’t know that I ever quite understood why she didn’t. She was having a personal crisis and trying to prove something, but all the same… Still, that was a bump early in the book, and once I accepted she was in the situation, the rest of the book rolled along just fine.
Jacky is joined in her plunge into Faerie by her best friend, Kate Hazel (or Crackernuts, which also has folklore origins). We saw in Blue Girl that de Lint has a flair for presenting stories of strong friendships, and this is another good one. There was a little romance around the edges, but the friendships were the central relationships of the story.
I’ve read a few other de Lint urban fantasies, and this has much the same feel–which I mean as a compliment! He has a real skill for bringing magical creatures into the modern world, fitting them into the crevices and dark shadows of an urban landscape, and still keeping a fascinating otherness to them. I’ve never been good at defining the difference between folklore and fairy tale, but de Lint seems to be drawing from the folklore side of things. His magic is tied to nature and the land, to old traditions and ancestral memory. No sparkles and little pixies here!
Drink Down the Moon follows closely from Jack the Giant-Killer, bringing back Jacky and Kate and introducing a few new characters too. The threat-level rises admirably, matching Jacky and Kate’s growing ability–but they’re still new enough to Faerie that a fair bit of scrambling goes on to confront the crisis. The second book also brings in more musical elements, which seem to be common in de Lint’s magical stories. If you ever meet a fiddler in a de Lint book, they are probably not what they seem!
I would recommend this as a good book(s) for someone not familiar with de Lint. Neither book taken alone is very long (about 200 pages in my edition, though it was small print), and they feel like a good introduction to de Lint’s world. Many of his urban fantasies connect together in a loose web, with characters appearing here and there (a bit like Discworld). These two are pretty much independent; all I spotted was a couple passing references to musicians or folklore experts whose names I recognized from other books. If you haven’t read de Lint’s other books, I don’t think you’ll ever feel like you’re missing something!
Author’s Site: http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/