Charles de Lint has a new book out, and it’s the second one in his Juniper Wiles series. I’m reasonably sure it stands alone, but I did read the first one first – called Juniper Wiles. I’m not sure why I didn’t review it at the time, but there we are. It’s a charming book with a really interesting premise that carries on into the series.
The premise is that anything sufficiently invested in becomes real. Fans of Charles de Lint will be familiar with his multiverses and otherworlds, and the ways in which he envisages different kinds of realities interacting. If enough people invest in a story, then that story can develop a life of its own – which is of course in some ways a literal truth when you think about fan fiction, cosplay and so forth.
Juniper Wiles is a character in a show that people have invested so much in that it has a reality of its own. Characters from it show up in her life thinking that she is her character – plenty of obvious real world issues here, too. That’s a lot for a person to get to grips with, even more so because her TV character solves crimes. It would be like people from Sunnydale turning up at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s house wanting help fighting actual vampires.
Juniper lives in Newford and has Jilly Coppercorn in her life – this is going to be a much bigger issue for anyone who has read de Lint’s work already. What we have now is a community that includes elders. There are multiple characters with experience of magic, otherworlds and all the rest who are able to support the younger humans in getting to grips with things. As these are stories with some solid LGBTQ content, I found this parallel powerful and interesting. The magical aspect of the story for me mirrors something of my experience of queer comunity and that growing presence of people who have lived longer and know stuff and can provide support. It also resonates with my experience of Pagan community.
There’s also something wonderful about what happens to story shapes when mentors aren’t just people you kill off to make the young protagonist deal with things alone when barely ready. I find I’m much more interested in stories where community plays a part and people support each other. Having an older, wiser Jilly Coppercorn able to help and guide the younger folk is a beautiful thing. I could use a lot more stories with this sort of shape.
Book two is going to greatly comfort anyone who has been made uncomfortable by a certain series about a magic school. Charles de Lint brings both humour and compassion to the issue, and does affirming, heartwarming things. He also has a really clever and original magic system going on in the background of the second book.
These are definitely books for people who enjoy content threatening to break the fourth wall. The writing is knowing, and self aware – de Lint himself is often cited as the father of urban fantasy and yet so much of where the genre has gone is very different from what he does. This is all part of the mix in these stories. His work has always been far more rooted in folklore and the land itself than is usual for urban fantasy. He’s always hopeful, restorative and generous in his writing. If you haven’t read any of his work, really you should.
As a personal note, I read the first book at some speed in order to be ready to be a test reader on the second book. A huge honour, and a wonderful thing to be given opportunity to do.
Book 1 in the series – https://www.charlesdelint.com/juniper-desc01.htm