Dingo, by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint has written over 50 books, website like this and he’s one of my favorite authors. Lately he’s taken to writing YA fantasy. I certainly don’t have a problem with that; previously I reviewed Little (Grrl) Lost and quite enjoyed it. This latest volume is a novella, 213 smaller-sized pages of an urban fantasy tale. It was released yesterday (which is today as I’m typing this).

Miguel Schreiber (his mother was Latina) is seventeen and minding his father’s comic book shop when the most amazing young lady he’s ever seen walks by, with a dog. The dog’s name is Em; the girl’s name is Lainey, and they’re from Australia. They talk for a while; Lainey’s guardian (her stepfather) is a bit weird, though, so Miguel can’t have her phone number or call on her or anything. Lainey feels the immediate connection, too — or at least she’s flirting back. The next day, however, he meets up with her on the beach, but she’s cold and distant and doesn’t seem to want his company. The dog, however, is much nicer than she was the day before. To top it all off, Miguel’s been having weird dreams about a forest in Australia. What gives?

Miguel lives just outside of Newford, on a lake, but most of the territory is new for de Lint readers. We don’t even have any of our normal characters like Jilly or Christy to ease the entry of the story. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to matter, and the book did draw on a lot of de Lint’s familiar themes. One of the major ones is the idea of the ‘cousins’ — a prior race of shapeshifting human/animals who came into the world before humans. They interbred with humans and animals, depending on which form they primarily took, and so now a good percentage of the human and animal races have ‘cousin’ blood. The concept was most fully explored in 1998’s Someplace to be Flying, an adult novel about tricksters and birds.

We don’t spend a lot of time with Miguel and Lainey — and they don’t spend a lot of time with each other — but it’s certainly enough to give us a good idea of who they are. Miguel is, in many ways, a stereotypical teenage boy, complete with hormones and rebellion. Lainey is quite different — she’s never been to school, but she certainly isn’t stupid. There’s another character, Johnny, who is a bit of a trope: the sensitive artist who is a bully in public. He’s more than that, though. The bully side and the artist side are, in him, both true facets of his nature, and he claims both of them. Miguel’s dad is also pretty cool; he used to be a biker, and he’s still definitely tough, but he’s doing a great job with Miguel as a single parent.

I think the only major flaw of this book is that it was too short for proper character development. De Lint has to depend on something approximating love at first sight in order to give Miguel and Lainey the connection that they need for the plot. We’re really never quite sure if Miguel and Lainey are going to make it for the long haul, or if there’s something in their personalities that’s going to change everything in ten years — or even ten days. We don’t know what Miguel really wants to do with his life, even though he’s seventeen and there are decisions to make in the near future. We’re given a tantalizing glimpse of a mythology that complements the Raven-corbae mythology from Someplace to be Flying and later works — but only that.

I can only hope that in the future, we either get short stories about Miguel and Lainey (and Johnny and Em) and their town, and that we get more about the Australian mythology and ‘cousins’. However, I enjoyed Miguel’s story very much, and I’ll give it 4.5/5 stars.

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