As we dip into the top 10, we’ve got the last book I read this year, and the oldest book I read this year. James Scott’s debut novel was harrowing and emotionally wrenching. It would have been even higher on the list except that the ending, while appropriate, seemed a little rushed. Charles de Lint is a writer of urban fantasy who has been publishing novels for thirty years. I’ve always meant to read one of his books, and I finally did so, a book that he published in 2003.
James Scott has crafted a harsh tale of life in upstate New York in the late 1800’s. Elspeth works as a midwife, often on the road helping women give birth across the State of New York. At home, her husband Jorah, tends to their six children until the day Elspeth returns home after weeks away to find her family recently gunned down and left for dead. All that is save for her 12-year-old son Caleb, hidden from the massacre, yet traumatized by the violent events, Caleb and his mother must face harsh weather, serious wounds, damaging secrets and an unforgiving world as they seek revenge on the men who destroyed their lives. Both protagonists carry secrets that manifest in a guilt that nearly causes them to make ill-fated decisions. In fact, nearly all of the main characters harbor anxiety producing secrets, and as any good reader of stories knows, those secrets are bound to come out.
Scott weaves an intricate tale that touches on so many issues, while keeping the story of a mother and her son at the core. The bleak landscape both without and within make for somber reading, but it’s well worth the effort to walk some miles in these tragic characters’ shoes.
Charles de Lint is a prolific writer of fantasy whose books often deal with spirits, faeries, worlds just beyond our perception where all matter of magical folks live. In this novel from 2003 he posits that the world wide web has evolved into one such world where spirits have taken up residence alongside our own world as well as the Borderlands and the Otherworlds where hobs, pixies, goblins, faeries, hellhounds and other such beings lurk.
One website in particular, the Wordwood, seems to be home to a very powerful spirit, and when the site is attacked by a computer virus, the devastating effects are made manifest in our world in the disappearance of dozens, possibly hundreds of people. In fact, Christy Redding’s girlfriend, Saskia, disappears right before his eyes, her body pixellating into nothingness. Of course, Saskia isn’t a normal person. She was born of the web; a spirit cast out from the web to awaken fully cognizant with implanted memories but no actual experience in a human body. Then there is Christiana, Christy’s shadow; all of the traits that Christy didn’t want at age seven that he cast off into his shadow. Christiana began life as everything Christy wasn’t: where Christy was male, Christiana was female; where Christy was cautious, Christiana was impetuous… etc. After Saskia’s disappearance, Christy reaches out to a ragtag assortment of friends and allies to help him try to find her, little knowing that her best source of information would be his shadow, Christiana.
Spirits in the Wires is a rollicking adventure held on multiple fronts as a variety of fun and fascinating characters all do their part in helping the people who have disappeared. Some of his supporting characters come across as slightly stereotypical, but that might be the shorthand of the fact that many of these characters have appeared in other works that I haven’t read. de Lint handles the female characters particularly well, especially in their relationships with each other. At its heart, Spirits in the Wires is more internal story of where we come from and who we are. Saskia and Christiana struggle with their unconventional beginnings and ask whether that makes the any less human? By the end of the novel we will know the answer, but in de Lint’s skillful hands, how could they be anything but?