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Review: The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

blue girl de lint Review: The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint has been a staple of the traditional urban fantasy genre for some decades now, and is perhaps best known for his vast body of work set in the fictional city of Newford, a place that veritably breathes all things faerie and is more than acquainted with the ins and out of Amerindian folklore. De Lint draws on a recurring cast of characters, some of whom remain at the periphery of his fiction, and some of whom, 'Jilly Coppercorn and Christy Riddell for example, are given starring roles across his oeuvre, and its these characters that have had me returning to de Lints work time and time again. De Lint is to me the equivalent of a literary bubble bath, a sort of comfort reading Ill undertake with somewhat guilty gusto when some bookish palate cleansing is required. De Lints work is not without its problems: there are similar issues that arise across many of his books, ranging from issues of content, such as the issue of cultural appropriation, to issues of romanticism and stereotyping, such as de Lints tendency to make copious use of the noble savage construct and his sentimental depictions of the homeless or the criminal, to structural issues resulting from rather underwhelming plot progressions. But despite this long string of caveats, I find myself returning to Newford and its cast of core characters on an indulgent whim: theres something about de Lints work that opens ones world a little.

The Blue Girl is one of de Lints more recent Newfordian works, and is one of his increasing number of YA novels. Like many of his novels, The Blue Girl features a strong and utterly believable female protagonist: in this case we have erstwhile bad-girl Imogene, who has recently moved with her brother and mother to Newford in search of both a fresh start and a lifestyle that allows a little more stability. The new-girl-in-town trope is of course one that permeates just about every YA book ever written, but in de Lints hands it works quite well, in part because the novel spans well over a year in time, and in part because Imogenes new girl status doesnt become the defining feature of her identity. Rather, we see Imogene effect a personal transformation as she befriends the quiet and downtrodden Maxine, and encourages her to become a person of her own. De Lints approach to the girls friendship is thoughtful and moving, and though there are inevitably moments of friction, Maxine and Imogene are allowed to develop the sort of positive, empowered relationship that Ive come across only rarely in my recent teen reading.

Of course, while friendship is a key theme upon which de Lint joyfully expounds throughout many of his novels, The Blue Girl wouldnt be a Newfordian novel without the essential inclusion of the fantastic, and de Lint, as always, delivers. Imogene begins a friendship with Adrian, a ghost who has been haunting the grounds of her school since his death at the hands of a mischievous group of fairies some years ago. Adrians relationship with the fairies somewhat complex (and Stockholm syndrome-esque): despite the fact that they treat him with the cruel flippancy that a bully might a puppy, they are the only only ones who have ever shown Adrian any sort of interest. 'So when Imogene dismisses his stories about his fairy friends as being the mere constructs of a lonely ghostly mind, Adrian asks his dubious friends to prove to Imogene that they are indeed real. But of course, as with all things fairie, the line between simple mischief and unfettered cruelty is somewhat blurred, and the fairies efforts to gain Imogenes attention instead end up gaining the attention of a frightening group of Nazgul-like monsters known as the anamithim.

The plot, admittedly, like many of de Lints books, is slight, but this generally isnt too problematic given the complex character development upon which de Lint embarks. De Lint frequently demands heavy ethical considerations of his characters, and The Blue Girl is rife with such challenges. Imogene struggles daily with whether to open up to Maxine about her less than pristine past, while Adrian finds himself in moral torment over the painful consequences of his actions, and the selfless steps that need to be taken in order that the resulting issues be ameliorated. The novel deals quite strongly, too, with the notion of belonging, with almost all of its major and minor characters seeking their place within the world (or outside the world, as the case may be for Adrian). De Lints greatest strength as an author is his ability to make you believe wholeheartedly in his characters, and The Blue Girl is no different. With the exception of the startlingly cliched head cheerleader and her quarterback boyfriend, each of his characters is given a rich, fleshed-out personality, and I appreciate the fact that the author allows his young characters families to play a role in the book rather than being swept off-stage after the Chorus has had its bit to say, which is so often the case in YA.

However, there are some weaknesses about'The Blue Girl that I cant help but touch upon, and which drag the novel away from the ranks of de Lints best work. De Lints use of multiple first person point-of-view was confusing at times, and I found the voices of Maxine and Imogene ran into each other in a way that stopped them from being easily distinguished (their similar names did not help this, either). Moreover, the titling of each section as past or present seemed superfluous and only served to confuse matters further, and was perhaps an unnecessary conceit. The Blue Girl is also rather weak in terms of setting, which is unusual for de Lint given his usually richly realised worlds. Ordinarily I feel completely anchored in the city of Newford, but with this novel felt that I might have been reading about any small city. This is perhaps partly to do with the fact that given the books YA audience de Lint struggles to bring in his standard cast of older Newford characters (although he certainly does try, peppering the pages with somewhat unnecessary nods to all manner of artists, authors, and musicians of whom I can hardly believe that Imogene or Maxine would have heard), and perhaps partly to do with the fact that de Lint himself is so at home in Newford that its easy to skim over some of the details needed to bring a setting truly to life for the reader.

In addition, I felt that de Lints plotting, while not uneven as such, felt unmotivated. The reason for the fairies mischief is essentially just because, which no doubt will ring falsely to many a reader, and the sudden threat of the anamithim seemed completely unrelated to any of the prior plot points, making it feel tacked on and without real purpose. While Im aware that the fairie world supposedly runs using different logic (and ethics!) from our own, these two elements, both of which are major turning points in the novel, were difficult to swallow as legitimate outcomes of the characters actions.

While The Blue Girl is certainly a fun read that allows the reader to while away a little time in the magical city of Newford, its not one of de Lints strongest. Readers familiar with de Lints work will enjoy the familiarity of it, but new readers may wish to seek out some of de Lints other work as an introduction to Newford.

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With thanks to Erin from Erin Reads for the review copy.

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Other books by Charles de Lint:

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  1. Ive never read de Lint, but if this isnt one of his stronger ones, Ill be sure to start with a different one!

  2. Stephanie /

    Im a huge de Lint fan, so do let me know if you need any suggestions!