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Widdershins

Reviewed: April 26, 2009
By: Charles de Lint
Publisher: TOR Books
560 pages, $16.95

You might think of Widdershins as a sequel to de Lint’s earlier novel The Onion Girl (2001) in that it continues the life story of Jilly Coppercorn, left to simmer while te author pursued other Newford tales and unrelated matters in another six or seven volumes. On the other hand, Jilly and her best friend Geordie Riddell were first introduced to us way back in 1989 in “Timeskip,” the first Newford short story, so you might say this is just another installment in a very long running saga.

Certainly a big part of this story is the relationship between these two old friends, who have been avoiding romance ever since they first met, on the theory that both of them tend not to have successful romantic relationships. Fans have long known just why this is, but Jilly and Geordie have never been able to figure it out.

Newford is a sort of generic North American city which could be in either eastern Ontario or just south of the border in the USA. Some of de Lint’s early urban fantasies were actually set in his home town of Ottawa, and Newford still has that feel for me.

Urban fantasy assumes the existence of mythic and legendary characters, that they are all around us, but that most people just don’t see them; they don’t want to, or are too convinced that such things could not be in our rational world. In Newford there is this group of friends who have, one by one, and sometimes quire reluctantly, become sensitized to the mystic world.

To perceive the members of the faerie court, who immigrated here along with the European settler culture, or the indigenous spirits (many of whom are shapeshifters) requires an effort of will. One must turn one’s mind widdershins ("in a direction opposite to the usual"). Similar acts of will can actually take you out of this dimension into several others which lie parallel to ours, or to the space which bridges dimensions, “the between.” where the very act of believing something can, in Picard’s phrase, make it so.

The animal people, or indigenous spirits of the land, have for their domain the non-unrbanized areas. They live in the wilds, while Newford’s faerie queens hold court in shopping malls and roam the city streets. While it has not been the subject of much discussion in the past, it turns out that this arrangement is the result of an uneasy truce between the two groups of spirit beings, and in Widdershins, thanks to the manipulations of a deranged animal spirit and the natural inclinations of some truly nasty faerie bogans, the truce is wearing thin.

For Lizzie Mahone it starts when she ventures on ahead of her celtic band and finds herself the witness to a brutal bogan hunt in which a deer-spirit is killed and she finds herself marked for further bogan attention.

For Geordie it starts when he is called to fill in on fiddle for Lizzie’s band after the bogans cause her co-fiddler to be injured while they are on tour.

For Jilly it starts when she accompanies Geordie to this gig and finds herself mistaken for Lizzie in the hotel room they are sharing after the evening’s performance. Lizzie is captured by the bogans and taken between, but Jilly is sort of protected from this by a spell placed on her without her knowledge some years back by Joe Crazy Dog, a half-breed shapeshifter.

The spell was supposed to take her to an otherworld safe place called the Greatwood, but instead it trapped her in a between place that was the repository of all the bad times she’s had as a young girl, when she had been molested by her older brother.

Most of the other characters in the novel have two problems to deal with. The first is finding and rescuing the two missing women, who have to be tracked through the various levels of the other world.

The larger, connected, problem is an impending war between the animal-spirit people and the faerie-folk. Any such conflict would have consequences in the material world as well as in the otherlands for, as has always been clear in the Newford tales, what you can’t see or hear can still hurt you.

Jilly has some assistance in escaping the world inside her own head where her twisted brother has the powers of a demented god, but the most important thing she has to do is simply deal with all that repressed anger and shame and accept that this, too, is part of what has made her who she is. It is also what has kept from healing physically after the hit and run accident in the earlier book. Only when she can simultaneously accept and banish the image of the Broken Girl which she has carried inside since that time will she be able to escape in both realities.

Widdershins is told from multiple points of view, some first person, some third. Almost every major character has few chapters to him or her self. In typical de Lint fashion this also includes what the main protagonists would consider the bad guys. In his novels the motives of the antagonists are seldom simply driven by pure evil and everyone has reasons for what they do.

You don’t need to have read any of the earlier adventures of the Newford bunch to enjoy this book. De Lint provides enough background to draw you in without boring any of his regular readers by repetition.

I always like to claim de Lint as an honorary Yukoner. He lived here briefly as a baby when his engineer father was doing some survey work for either the federal or the territorial government. It was in the early 1950s, so the distinction is probably moot.

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