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Someplace to be Flying

Reviewed: April 2, 2002
By: Jack de Lint
Publisher: TOR Books
544, $8.99

For most of his career Charles de Lint has been playing with the notion that there is a world out there, beyond our senses, that we don't quite make contact with. Sometimes it makes contact with us, and the results can be unsettling, to say the very least.

In Newford, the capital city of de Lint's imagination, the boundaries seem to be thinner than they are elsewhere. In three volumes worth of short stories and several novels, de Lint has introduced us to a community of artists, musicians, street people and mystics who have brushed up against this otherworld, and sometimes even captured bits of it in their work and lives, but have seldom actually entered it or become part of it.

There has been some crossing of boundaries, as in Trader, for instance, but the ultimate truth so far has been that everyone comes back home and that it would be hard to prove that some things ever happened.

Someplace to Be Flying changes these ground rules. The major characters in this novel are either members of the other world themselves, or so close to it as to be able to sense it. In this novel, de Lint has decided to play a bigger game. Enough toying with hints of identity and fiddling about in the shadows; this time he's decided to play with creation itself.

Not that he's dismissed human characters completely, but every single human in this novel is in some way related to the primal creatures who are jousting behind the walls of the world we know. Oh, most of them don't know it. But all of the recorded myths have indications that, as the Bible puts it, the sons (and daughters, we suppose) of the gods were moved by the comeliness of humanity and begot children on them.

De Lint presumes that the beings who got to watch the initial creation, in whatever form they existed then, were the real First People, the beings who could shift back and forth from animal form to human and, indeed, into any form they chose. North American Indian mythology is the root of much of his speculation, with its tales of crow, raven and their ilk.

Somewhere to Be Flying takes this slender thread and spins it into a complex tapestry of a tale which is, at one and the same time, about a threat to the very warp and woof of the world, while it is also about one being's attempts to become a better person.

These mystical beings are the Corbae. They are beings of magic and power. They are both young and old, and one of the ways that they deal with the span of time they have lived is to forget about it whenever they can. Some of their shape shifting is caused by the fact that different people see them differently. Some of it is deliberate. Most of the beings we meet in this novel are birdlike, black birds such as crows, ravens and jackdaws having a major role. We also meet with bluebirds, murderous magpies and some animal corbae.

The most important of the corbae, for the purposes of this story, is a teller of tales who mostly goes by the name of Jack when he has two legs. Jack's mission is to collect stories, and his obsession is to right some wrongs that he feels he has done over several generations.

The major human characters, all of whom have some connection to the corbae, have their own stories to tell. Hank is a jack of all trades on the streets, a kind man who isn't good with relationships, but can't stand to see people hurt. That's why he steps in to save Lily, a photojournalist who is researching the the legends of animal people. Both of them as it turns out, are rescued by the Crow Sisters, and that begins their connection to the mysteries which are coming to a head at the apartment building some call the Rookery.

Rory is a jewellery maker who lives there. Annie, a successful musician, lives upstairs, Both of them take a shine to the new border, the innocent seeming Kerry, who has many secrets from her short, sad life. The landlords are Chlöe and Lucius, who are hardly every seen. The other tenants are known as the Aunts. The Crow Sisters claim to live in a nearby tree. At first Rory refuses to believe this, but later he wonders if they don't.

With so many characters, you can expect a lot of voices and points of view. There are several first person narratives here including Jack's and, later, Kerry's. There is some standard third person stuff for Rory, Hank and Lilly. There is e-mail. There are Jack's stories, given to us in a storyteller's omnipotent tones. There is family history from the 1940s to the 1990s, with enough vignettes to make us understand all the connections.

All of this shifting among people, times and places is enough to make the book a little confusing if you aren't used to this style, but the effect of it is that you come to live in a complicated place which has the aura of being real. I don't think that Newford is actually a city I would want to visit - it's rather dangerous - but I always leave these books feeling as if I've been there.

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