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Widdershins

by Charles de Lint

With Widdershins, Ottawa writer Charles de Lint returns to the fictional city of Newford for what may be a world-altering showdown between the ancient North American immortals and spirits – based on First Nations tradition – and the more recently arrived fairy folk, introduced to this continent by European settlers.

Musician Lizzie Mahone unwittingly becomes involved and soon, in the manner of de Lint’s recent tales, characters from previous books begin to pour into the pages in support of the newcomer. With much retelling and explaining of the mythology de Lint has created over the years, Lizzie and her friends are introduced to the ways of the immortal worlds, and the spaces between.

Interwoven into Lizzie’s tale is the burgeoning romance between fan favourites Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell. Widdershins is a follow-up to The Onion Girl, in which Jilly faced a crippling car accident and a history of abuse. Here, she is more mobile, but still struggling – fortunately, her self-recriminations and bemoaning of her lost physical and artistic skills don’t continue throughout the book. In trying to help Lizzie, Jilly becomes drawn deeper into her abused childhood and becomes trapped in a world of her own making. Will she be rescued by her old friend Geordie? Will they recognize that they’re meant to be lovers?

De Lint has done a fair job balancing the presentation of Newford and its characters for both newcomers and fans alike – not an easy feat. But one feels as though he’s torn between his longtime fans (who have been begging for a conclusion to Jilly and Geordie’s story) and the importance of creating new stories that are accessible to first-time readers. De Lint may have written himself into a corner, becoming what he has long tried to avoid: a serial writer whose work needs to be read in sequence. The longer he continues to write of the same characters and settings, the more he will find himself in the same conundrum.

In the case of Widdershins, new readers will find the lengthy explanations informative and necessary (although didactic and repetitious in places), while existing fans may become frustrated. It would be lovely to see de Lint turn his writing magic and his established mythos into new stories that don’t feature the same characters and setting – back to the Moonheart and The Little Country days, when each book was a much anticipated mystery.

Also problematic are the novel’s many voices. Widdershins is told from multiple characters’ points of view – a quick count reveals well over a dozen voices, some in first person, some in third, some making only a single appearance. This is a difficult style to juggle and is further hindered by the fact that the voices largely have the same language and tone, making it easy to confuse who is speaking on any given page. This also lends a sense of sameness, despite de Lint’s attempts to highlight the individual characters.

Once the action gets going, the novel clips along and the book becomes increasingly difficult to put down. The more sophisticated plotlines and characters move beyond de Lint’s recent “mortals in danger call on both humans and fey, ancient and new, to save the day” tropes. (Especially interesting are the deep interactions between the two spirit cultures.) The novel reaches into de Lint’s larger mythos and branches out farther than his recent books.