Quicksilver and Shadow, by Charles de Lint (Subterranean Press, 2005)

Very few authors can compare to Charles de Lint when it comes to urban fantasy, a sub-genre he all but helped define over the past thirty years. His magical tales of the mythical North American city of Newford have placed magic in the unlikeliest of urban environments, with everything from vampires to fairies, electronic ghosts to shape-shifting animal spirits, hiding amongst normal people. His ability to weave together magic, music, and a love of the fantastic has helped de Lint to create an impressive body of work, both in short fiction and in novels. But until recently, many of his earliest works, the stories that helped to build his early career, have remained uncollected, even as his Newford stories were gathered together.

Quicksilver & Shadow is the second collection of early de Lint stories to be released by Subterranean Press, a publisher which specializes in high-quality, limited-run chapbooks, short fiction collections, and reprints by various notable authors. This volume brings together seventeen of de Lint’s lesser-known works, covering dark and contemporary fantasy, horror, science fiction, and his Bordertown novellas. Along the way, we’re treated to his thoughts on these early works, and we get a very real look at both his beginning successes, and his occasional missteps. Hey, even de Lint, a master of his craft, had to start somewhere, and he’s the first to admit that not everything he did in the beginning caught on like it should have.

Some of the stories are strong ones, such as “Scars,” a ghost story in which a young man has to come to terms with his father’s death and learns how to let go. It may be short on anything actually going on, but the characterization and sheer poignancy makes up for that. “We Are Dead Together” sets up an interesting premise: a world where Gypsies (the Rom) live side-by-side with vampires (here, called shilmullo). Some have learned to live with the form of slavery/bondage that keeps them in servitude to the vampires. Others chafe at this. And one musician is caught in the middle, looking to atone for a mistake. Her decision is both powerful and tragic. “Death Leaves An Echo” is another kind of ghost story, one of his longer works.

For outright horror, there’s “From A 24″ Screen,” which is de Lint channeling Stephen King in a particularly vicious mood. It’s not one of his better offerings, and even de Lint acknowledges that it falls short in a variety of ways, especially where horror is concerned.

All of de Lint’s various Bordertown contributions can be found here. For those who don’t remember the Bordertown series, it was a shared universe project edited by Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold. Take one North American city, place it right on the border between Earth and Faerie, throw in magic, music, and teenage runaways from both sides of the fence, and shake. The series spawned several anthologies and a few standalone books, featuring authors such as Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner, Bellamy Bach, and de Lint himself. In its time, it was a powerful, fun, energetic series that really took advantage of the premise to have a good time. Elves, half-elves, humans, mages even a werewolf (of sorts) all made their mark on a city where technology and magic mixed and worked equally unpredictably. So here we have de Lint’s stories, “Berlin,” “Stick,” and “May This Be Your Last Sorrow” (I love the third just for the image of a girl spilling her secrets to a sympathetic, silent gargoyle.)

De Lint’s also made some forays, fairly rare ones, into the science fiction arena, with the most notable of these likely being his book Svaha. However, here we have a handful of his early SF attempts as well, though they’re as much science fantasy as science fiction, invoking Andre Norton and mixing with common folklore themes and a post-apocalyptic setting. In some, he also shows a pulp influence. In a relatively rare case of de Lint collaborating with other writers, there are two stories cowritten with Roger Camm: “The Dralan” and “The Cost of Shadows”.

If I sound less than enthusiastic about many of the stories in this collection, it’s because more than a few of them failed to grab me like the ones I’m more familiar with. I stumbled across Charles de Lint with his Newford work, and those stories have always been my favorite. I’ve never been quite so fond of his detours into the science fiction/science fantasy, straight fantasy, or psychological horror realms, and sad to say, some of these earliest stories are misfires. That said, I do love the Bordertown stories, and it’s worth reading many of these both for the sake of completion, and out of historical interest.

I wish I could say more about this collection. Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors, and it’s a genuine treat getting to see so many of these forgotten, obscure, unpublished, or previously uncollected stories. But as a whole, Quicksilver & Shadow isn’t the best example of his work as it has grown and matured over the years. If you want to see de Lint at his best, try one of the Newford collections, such as Dreams Underfoot or The Ivory and the Horn, or look for Triskell Tales (a collection of his chapbooks, also published by Subterranean Press). Ultimately, this collection is probably of interest to collectors, completists, and diehard fans (among which I do count myself).

Originally posted on SF Site, 2005

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