If the name Charles de Lint sounds familiar to you and yet you haven't read any of his work it may be for a number of reasons. You may have seen the many striking book covers graced by the work of John Jude Palencar as you walk down the fantasy aisles. Or it may be because Charles de Lint has written over 40 novels, has numerous short story collections, writes poetry, and is a Celtic folk musician. Whatever the reason, the name Charles de Lint should be familiar to you. If it is not, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to remedy that situation as quick as possible.
Widdershins is a novel set in de Lint's Newford series. Charles de Lint has set almost 20 novels in the fictional North American city of Newford, a place with a cast of human characters that intersect with people of the faerie realm and Native American spirits. I picked up Widdershins as my first de Lint novel because the hints that it was a love story intrigued me. I like a bit of romance with my science fiction and fantasy. It was also advertised as a book that one could read without having read any of the other Newford books: a fact that I can wholeheartedly attest to.
A varying cast of characters inhabit de Lint's Newford books, so not each book is about the same people. Some of the characters in Widdershins have no doubt had a presence in some of the other books, but he does such a fantastic job of introducing the reader to the characters in a way that does not feel awkward, does not feel like a recap of other stories, that you begin to know the characters very intimately right from the start.
Two of the principal characters of Widdershins are Jilly and Geordie, characters that have had a presence in other Charles de Lint books, most notably the book The Onion Girl. In an author's note at the beginning of the book, Charles de Lint states that Widdershins arose out of numerous fan requests to find out what happened to Jilly and Geordie after the events of The Onion Girl. Eventhough Widdershins can be read as a stand alone book, if you have any desire to read The Onion Girl without having the ending spoiled for you, you should probably read that one first. I have a feeling that I know a lot about that book from reading Widdershins (and yet I loved the characters so much I still feel compelled to go read The Onion Girl...that alone should tell you how much I loved de Lint's writing).
So after all that introduction, what is the book about? Well, it is about a group of young adult celtic musicians and how a seemingly innocent decision sets in motion circumstances that will involve humans, faerie, Native American mythological creatures, and other old, folkloric characters...circumstances that will build towards a war that could have devastating effects on members of each race. In addition to that it is a story about healing from abuse, a story of self-examination, a story of life examination. Mix in an appreciation for Celtic music, deep characterization, a writing style that builds and builds upon itself, pulling the reader right into that world, and you have Widdershins. And, I suspect, any of Charles de Lint's novels.
Charles de Lint's work has been called "fantasy for people who don't read fantasy" and this is a pretty accurate definition. While de Lint certainly treats many of the typical fantasy/fairy tale subjects, he does so in such a serious, fluid manner that it never feels silly. It rarely even feels like fantasy in the way some other books do. There is such a strong folklore and mythology element to his work that it feels as if you are reading a story rich with historical spiritual and cultural elements. In Widdershins it is all very real, and very fascinating. Each relatively short chapter in Widdershins is about a specific character, told from their point of view. The effect of this is that you get to know each character very intimately, and the suspense of the various threads of the tale builds and builds as they are woven together towards the climax. I literally found myself reading faster and faster as events began to get more and more intense. It is a very good book.
Widdershins reminded me of two other stories: American Gods and Lord of the Rings. Widdershins shares a very strong bond with American Gods in its treatment of how gods, faerie, mythological creatures, etc. followed the humans, particularly the Europeans, as they migrated to North America. The effect that this has on the spirits already present in North America is treated similarly in both books. If you liked one, I guarantee you'll like the other. Both books are cut from the same rich, cultural/mythological cloth. It reminded me of Lord of the Rings in that a significant amount of time was spent with each character after the grand climax, allowing the reader to see resolution of the various issues and allowing a glimpse into where each character would go from here. I really enjoyed that as I became so strongly attached to so many of the characters that it gave me time to gently let them all go. It is a very effective writing style.
And finally, I mentioned something about abuse. If you work in the mental health field in any capacity then I highly recommend this book. Its treatment of the healing of abuse is so profound that I was deeply moved by that plot line alone, not to mention the many other wonderful things Widdershins has to offer. Charles de Lint has some wonderful insight into the healing of the human soul.
Widdershins is a fantastic, rich, complex and wonderful book. I give it my highest of recommendations and count myself as a new fan of Charles de Lint.