Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint

Often after years have passed and an author has gained their degree of fame, notoriety, and respect, their earlier work is pushed aside to gather dust by their later, more iconic work. And sometimes some of that early work never gets published in the first place. Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) was completed in 1980 and de Lint’s fourth book – it was never published when his editor bluntly pointed out that if Eyes Like Leaves was published de Lint would forever be branded as a second-world fantasy writer. de Lint had already developed a love for his trademark brand of contemporary fantasy, so he decided that his next book needed to reflect that love and Eyes Like Leaves was shelved indefinitely – incidentally, Yarrow (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) was the book that ended up being published in its place.

Eyes Like Leaves tells the story of dueling Gods – the summer god versus the winter god – through human pawns. The world is directly analogous to the British Islands, with a distinctive Celtic feel complete with Viking raiders and the displaced and nearly extinct Pict-ish peoples and elves. Tarn is the young wizard, Puretongue the wizened mentor, and Carrie the one with the potential to save the world. Creatures of the Winterlord stalk the land, magic is fading from the world, and the Summerlord the underdog.

Eyes Like Leaves feels both old and new – in many ways it is yet another Tolkien-spawn that so populated the fantasy of its day. Yet it also feels more real – the gods flawed and even the good guys are cruel. The people are truly human – they are not fantasies, but actual people caught up in what we would consider fantasy. And while the Celtic and Norse influences dominate, in typical de Lint fashion, it’s combined with Native American-style shape-shifting.

The almost poetic and reverent writing that I so love about de Lint is only hinted at in this early work – things feel raw and unpolished compared to his later writing. de Lint intentionally resisted the temptation to revise and update this manuscript – he felt it was important to honor and remain true to his nearly 30-year younger self, a man in an entirely different place in his life with a different message to send. The younger generation in Eyes Like Leaves gets pounded on by the gods – definitely the tale of a younger man who feels the world is out to get him.

In all honestly, the whole of the book simply feels unremarkable. The story is good, if a bit familiar. The characters are worth following, though a bit cliché. The world and its magic are both clever and tired. This is far from de Lint’s best work. But none of that matters all that much.

The greatest value of Eyes Like Leaves is probably in its story – not the story within the pages, but the story of the pages themselves and how they came to be. It’s a glimpse backwards in time, the view of a great writer before he was great. This story will be packaged a high-quality limited edition that
Subterranean Press has become known for – by book lovers for book lovers. de Lint’s books are hugely popular at Subterranean, so this one will likely sell-out early and become something of a collector’s item. If you are so inclined, it’s unlikely the words of this review have influenced you one bit, but if you are the fence, hopefully I provided a nudge one way or another. 6.5/10

2 comments:

Michael said...

I think I'll pass. I enjoy his other novels, but I'm more interested in a good story than the story behind the publishing of it. - Mike Metz

Neth said...

It really is a book for collectors and uber-fans.

But I do think with a solid re-write it could be a great book that fits in better with the times (but I also respect wy it was left alone, that has its own kind of value).

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