Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint (book review).

Once, when the word ‘fantasy’ was mentioned, the automatic thought was something Tolkienesque, a plot involving magic, wizards and possibly god-like beings, with lots of conflict and a quest. The settings were invented worlds. Often the sides of conflict were very much black and white.

Later, fantasy became broader to include contemporary or historical settings and supernatural creatures living within human communities either openly or subversively. Both kinds of fantasy developed and still have large followings.

When Charles de Lint started his writing career, he set his novels in the more traditional, ‘other’ world setting. As a fast and prolific writer, he found he had an enviable choice of which of two books to have published next. He wisely chose the one with the contemporary setting. His books still contained magic and the supernatural but the context was different. The book that didn’t make it into print at that time was ‘Eyes Like Leaves’. More than twenty years later, he revised the book, making improvements and this volume is the result.

The technology level of the Green Isles, the setting for this novel, is that of the Viking marauders known in 10th century Europe. In fact, the Isles are under attack by such ship-borne warriors. It is a time of turmoil. In the north, the island of Ardmeyn is covered in a spreading cap of ice a result of the encroachment of the will of Lothan, the Winter Lord.

This book was originally written in 1980 and readers of this kind of fantasy may well find ideas that they may think are familiar, written at a later date by other writers. The struggle between Summer and Winter to balance the changing seasons is recapitulated here as a war between Lothan and his brother, the Summerlord Hafarl. As ‘Eyes Like Leaves’ opens, Winter is winning and the Summers are getting shorter as the ice advances, heralded by the stormkin sent by Lothan to kill anyone with a trace of the blood that may aid Hafarl.

The magic that some can draw on is called taw. While many have a little wizards have much more and can use it to shape-shift or enhance their natural abilities. One such is Tarn, sometimes referred to as the swanmage as his preferred other shape is a swan. He was found and trained by Puretongue, a much older and experienced wizard.

He has been sent to the fishing village of Codswill to meet the Summerborn, a woman fleeing the Saramand Vikings. He is expecting a mage but instead finds Carrie. She is fleeing the destruction of her home and the murder of her parents. On arriving at Codswill, she is taken under the wing of a family of tinkers who are travelling north.

These are not all the important players. Deren Merewuth is a survivor of another raid in which he lost an eye. He was healed by an old man he knows as Gwyryon. Together, they are travelling to the north of Kellmidden and the henge of Pelemas where they hope to find some answers or guidance that could help the Summerlord to return and fight Lothan. This is where all the participants are heading.

Many of the elements in this novel will be familiar to readers of this kind of fantasy but the ones that readers are likely to remember were all written later meaning that de Lint was likely to have been the generator of these tropes.

What makes this book enjoyable is the quality of the writing. Also, it is very contained. Some writers would have spread the plot over a number of volumes to its detriment.

At the end of the book, de Lint has included his original first chapter, one which he junked at the revision stage. It is useful to see how he advanced at a word technician from the early days of his career.

de Lint is always worth reading, this book is no exception, but I am very glad that he chose to explore the contemporary fantasy genre as these books show the depths of his originality.

Pauline Morgan

July 2021

(pub: Tachyon, 2012. 320 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61696-050-6)

check out website: www.tachyonpublications.com

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