de Lint, Charles. 1998. Someplace to Be Flying. New York: Tor.

Reviewed 16 May 1998

Someplace to Be Flying (cover) Newford is my kind of town. It's big enough to hold lots of interesting characters without forcing them to rub elbows with each other in the next book (although that is, as discussed below, the major flaw of this novel). At the same time, it's not a faceless cavern like New York or LA. And it certainly hosts some interesting people and events!

De Lint does an exceptionally fine job of borrowing folklore and putting it in another context. Unlike the many pseudoArthurian/quasiCeltic boy-meets-marries/sexually assaults/both-girl books masquerading as novels these days, Someplace to Be Flying clearly shows respect for its source material without merely dressing it up in 90s prose and Attitude. The folklore fits Newford--it's otherworldly without invoking our jaded fear of the unknown as its otherworldly character. And de Lint keeps successfully adapting slightly different folklore to his stories and novels set in Newford without undermining himself very much (but see below).

Someplace to Be Flying does have a typical de Lint plot structure: a young woman becomes the focus of otherwordly powers in urban Canada, transforms her understanding of herself and her surroundings, and is critically involved in saving The World as We Know It from those otherworldly powers gone amok. But, at a general level, this describes an awful lot of books, not just de Lint's! De Lint successfully makes each of his books different by engaging in different metanarratives and different means of character development.

The mythic structure of Someplace to Be Flying may be similar to previous books, but the development is different. The author appears to be setting his sights higher now than he did with his mid-1980s efforts set in Ottawa. This has elevated his prose and his character development from merely satisfactory to quite good. One thing that I like a great deal about Someplace to Be Flying is the not-quite-reliable narrators of some POVs, particularly in chapters 3, 4, and 7. That is extremely difficult to pull off in contemporary fiction--perhaps because few editors seem interested in it.

De Lint's fascination with the criminal underworld and "unofficial" people and economy add a great deal of interest to his environment. One reason I don't read much contemporary horror is the whitebread middle-class environs that dominate the genre. I can almost hear the creepy background music when a non-white, non-middle-class character steps on stage, or the characters leave the whitebread for the rye. De Lint successfully avoids these problems by obviously caring about his marginalized people. In Someplace to Be Flying, his lack of prejudice toward individual human beings has an ironic counterpoint in the violent prejudices of the cuckoos, the corbae, and the canids. A lesser writer would either make them simple mirrors of each other or fail to see any distinction. Without either "just showing" or preaching, de Lint makes us aware of the counterpoint as a human strength that is just different from the Animal People--neither inferior (making the Animal People gods) or superior (making the Animal People irrelevant). He also ties this strength of human character directly in to an almost Germanic individualismus in character development.

The major logical flaw in this book also concerns Newford. We get glances of characters from Memory and Dream (4
stars), including references to a numena-creator (Barbara Nichols). But we never see any of the numena in Someplace to Be Flying, although the creation myths forming the underpinning of both books are startlingly similar. This is a relatively minor quibble. De Lint isn't writing "series" books per se; he is exploring a huge, well-realized environment. Nonetheless, the environment shouldn't discount previous stories as it develops.

Overall rating: 4 stars
Excellent.
The latest novel-length urban adventure set in Newford is not, contrary to the unsigned review in Kirkus Reviews, the author's "best so far." On the whole, the characters are nicely drawn (although the fate of one central character becomes pretty clear by the middle of the book--he's stereotypically archetypal). It's well worth reading, but Memory and Dream is still a better novel. I look forward to the next offering as de Lint continues to grow.


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