The Wind in his Heart by Charles DeLint (Urban Fantasy)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 5/5

A troubled 16 year old, a rock star whose death 40 years before was greatly exaggerated, a young man who can see into the spirit world, but just wants to leave the rez and see the world, and a cast of ma’inawo — the “cousins” who cross freely between the spirit world and that of the five fingered beings — these are some of the characters that populate DeLint’s delightful urban fantasy.

I love DeLint’s work — he’s written over 70 adult and young adult novels, and I’ve probably read about 40. These are NOTHING like your traditional fantasy works. They take place in the here and now (no kings, knights, or medieval settings; no long battles) and are about community, relationships, and healing. There is very little violence, and what there is is always presented in a nuanced way that seeks to understand the source and the path to healing of the person perpetrating the violence. He describes a world and community where individuals still care about trying to be good people and learning what that means for them.

DeLint has always had wonderfully balanced genders and plenty of characters who are outside any sense of a “norm” and yet are fully accepted. There is no agenda of oppression, anger, or conflict — the goal is to seek understanding, promote justice, and find a place in the world. It’s kind of the best of two of my favorite reading worlds — escape and a chance to learn more about being human.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Fantasy / Literary Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 World building: 5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 3.5/5

A compelling and intricate urban fantasy that explores the myriad ways stories pervade our lives. The narrative is “gamer style” — space and time gateways, bizarre characters and messages, and mysterious options for the traveler. Theatric and literary references abound — and there is no filler — every sentence counts in this elaborate and labyrinthine tale.

Our main character is Zachary Ezra Rawlins — two months shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, the son of a fortune-teller, and a graduate student doing a thesis on gender and narrative in gaming. He is gay (or as his friend Kat says, “orientationally unavailable”) and a nice love story forms a narrative arc through the adventures, intrigues, and quests in the book.

It’s all story — no real messages, the characters are all interesting though not terribly deep (they are all seeking purpose — who isn’t?). The world is fascinating, the pacing is perfect, and the writing flows. Great for fans of Harrow’s Ten Thousand Doors of January, Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.

I liked the writing a lot but didn’t find a lot of specifically awesome lines — here are some quotes to give you a flavor of the writing:

“Much of it revolves around an underground library. No, not a library, a book-centric fantasia that Zachary missed his invitation to because he didn’t open a painted door when he was eleven.”

“Zachary takes out the book. He turns it over in his hands and then puts it down on his desk. It doesn’t look like anything special, like it contains an entire world, though the same could be said of any book.”

“Spiritual but not religious,” Zachary clarifies. He doesn’t say what he is thinking, which is that his church is held-breath story listening and late-night-concert ear-ringing rapture and perfect-boss fight-button pressing. That his religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending.”

“He tells her about moving from place to place to place and never feeling like he ever belonged in any of them, how wherever he was he would almost always rather be someplace else, preferably somewhere fictional.”

“The pay phone next to me started ringing. Seriously. I didn’t even think those worked, I had them categorized in my mind as nostalgic street-art objects.”

“I accepted because mysterious ladies offering bourbon under the stars is very much my aesthetic.”

“Sometimes life gets weird. You can try to ignore it or you can see where weird takes you.”