Yarrow, by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors; I own at least one copy of nearly everything he’s written. (Between Ben and me we have three copies of Moonheart, try but that’s a different story.) He’s written at least a little bit in nearly every speculative-fiction genre, but his vast favorite is urban or mythic fantasy. (See my reviews of his works here. Yes, there are a couple extraneous reviews in there, but scroll down a bit.) Most of his recent urban fantasies are set in Newford, his fictional North American city, but several of his early volumes were set in Ottawa and Toronto: real Canadian cities. The following volume was one of his early mythic/urban fantasties, and it’s set in Ottawa.

Cat Midhir is a best-selling fantasy writer; she lives an extreme of the writer’s life, though. She has very few friends and rarely leaves her apartments. However, her fantasy works are incredible and have gotten her a very large fan base. Her great secret, though, is that her inspiration comes from dreams: very vivid dreams that she feels as if she experiences firsthand. However, recently these dreams have stopped, and she finds herself with a case of writer’s block; she simply cannot write without the dreams. Why has she stopped having these dreams? And why is she getting dark dreams, dreams that contain a shadowy dark stalker?

Cat is one of Mr. de Lint’s earlier waifish female heroines; she’s an only-child writer who lives alone and rarely goes out. I think the only place I really remember her showing up on a regular basis was a bookstore. She didn’t have an easy childhood (of course, neither do most of his heroines) and so far, other than ridiculous luck with her first three or four books, her adulthood has been solitary, albeit not exactly difficult. It’s got to be rather miserable for her that the point at which she loses her ‘muse’ (so to speak) is right in the middle of a book. From the way that her dreams usually work, it wasn’t terribly likely that she’d ever get that one back again.

Obviously Cat’s writing skills are well-developed, but having been gifted with this nearly magical (well, OK, it is magical) ability to dream truly, she never quite developed her skills to come up with an idea out of her own imagination. I strongly suspect that a good number of writers feel like this at some times: that their ability to come up with story ideas is a ‘gift’, and when they get writer’s block, the ‘gift’ has been taken away. I’m not really qualified to decide whether a talent of story ideas is a ‘gift’ or not, since people use the word ‘gift’ to mean several different things, but in any case, this book is (in many ways) an extended metaphor about writer’s block, or a block in any sort of creativity.

Cat’s other problem, her reclusiveness, is perhaps a little bit of a harder problem to solve — not more difficult per se, but one involving actual mental and emotional work on her part, rather than a Big Mythical (External) quest. She meets a man at some point, and a romance develops, but it’s not without its pitfalls and difficulties. She has to learn to trust people, and that’s always difficult. Overall, it’s a shortish book (250ish pages in the trade paperback), especially compared to Moonheart, but that does not make it less worthy as a read, or less de Lint-ish. It’s got mythology, the Otherworld, a petite heroine, and that fine sense of the fantastic that you’ll find in nearly every Charles de Lint novel. 4.5/5 stars.

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