Tuesday, 6 January 2009

‘The Mystery of Grace’ – Charles de Lint (Tor)

Have you ever picked up a book (by an author you’ve never read before) and found yourself thinking, “This is great! How is it that I’ve never given this author a go before?” That was me (way back in 2007) when I read ‘The Ivory and the Horn’, a collection of short stories set in de Lint’s fictional city of Newford. I won’t gush about it too much here (have a look at the Review to see what I thought) but it’s definitely worth a look. When ‘The Mystery of Grace’ came through the door, a couple of months ago, I pretty much dropped everything for a much anticipated dose of de Lint goodness. I was all set for a glowing review and then the nice people at Tor asked me if I wouldn’t mind holding off on that for a little while longer (what with the book not coming out until March this year, a fair point really...)
Well, it’s a little nearer the release date now so I had a quick re-read and my opinion hasn’t changed. ‘The Mystery of Grace’ is an excellent read that any fan of Charles de Lint should enjoy and is a great place for the first time reader to hop on and give the author a go.

Grace used to work at Sanchez Motor Works (customizing hot rods) but now her whole world consists of a few blocks around her small apartment building and John Burns, a man who loves her as much as she loves him. It’s a shame then that the timing of their meeting has made their relationship a whole lot more complicated than it should be. Both Grace and John have unfinished business that they must take care of before they can move on, whether it’s together or on their own...

‘The Mystery of Grace’ is a fairly short book (my advance copy is only two hundred and sixty nine pages long) and this was a good thing as I was so engrossed in what was going on that I can’t see myself ever surfacing from a longer version of the same story. Without giving too much away about the book the world that Grace inhabits is compelling to say the least, especially as de Lint begins to reveal little bits of the mystery that surrounds it. Grace’s world is full of familiar things but de Lint makes it clear that it’s a world that is also empty at the same time and this ‘background silence’ comes across in a powerful manner throughout the course of the book, leaving the reader in no doubt that there’s ‘otherworldly business’ going on.

This air of silence also serves to bring the characters to the fore and really makes them stand out from the page. In ‘The Mystery of Grace’, de Lint has taken the concept of ‘long distance relationships’ and put a spin on it that would defy the attempts of the most star crossed of lovers trying to get round it. Grace and John’s attitude towards this obstacle is remarkably pragmatic, maybe a little bit too much so given the nature of the problem they face. I wasn’t sure that this attitude was wholly plausible (although maybe I should wait and see how I would react in this situation before passing judgment...) but de Lint’s ‘everyday, down to earth’ portrayal of the two main characters negates this uncertainty. Instead we have two strong characters who know what they want and are prepared to do whatever is needed to get it. Their strength in the face of some truly tough obstacles makes for a love story that tugs on the heart strings.

Having finished the book it’s also interesting to look back and see how it is truly a ‘Mystery of Grace’. There’s some wordplay in the title which has ramifications for the story itself, adding an extra dimension that really had me thinking about it all after I put the book down. ‘The Mystery of Grace’ is a book that I’m sure I will come back to, in the future, to see what else I can find.

‘The Mystery of Grace’ is one of those books where I can quite honestly say that I’m really glad I took the time to give it a go. If this book is anything to go by then I can see myself finding more of de Lint’s work. One for all fans of urban fantasy.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten


RobB said...

You should check out de Lint's The Little Country. It is set, for the most part, outside of his Newford stories and is terrific read.

Graeme Flory said...

I'll check that one out, cheers Rob! :o)

Kayla said...

Your review definitely makes me want to pick up a Charles de Lint book! I hadn't heard of him until I met him at a lit conference a few years ago, and The Onion Girl has been on my bookshelf since then. I'm inspired to finally read it, as well as The Mystery of Grace when it comes out.

Any others of his that you would recommend?

SciFiGuy said...

So glad to see someone review Charles de Lint. His works epitomize the original definition of urban fantasy and all of his work has a timeless feel to it. I have followed his books since the beginning and can truly say I have never read a de Lint book I didn't like.

angelshimmery said...

Absolutely love Charles De Lint's books and can't wait for the publication of this one.
Have just finished re-reading Moonlight and Vines and the copy of What the Mouse Found and other stories that I gave my daughter at Christmas.

Steve Buchheit said...

Kayla, definitely read "The Onion Girl." If you know your fairy tales, you'll enjoy it thoroughly. The last de Lint book I read was "Widdershins." While the majority of the book was excellent, there was on major plot point that IMHO felt forced. The rest of the book kept me reading till the end, though.

Carl V. said...

I am so glad to hear it. Charles de Lint is a favorite and I was hoping this book would turn out to be another winner. I look forward to snagging it when it comes out in March.