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.

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

Writing: 3.5/5 Characters: 3.5/5 Story: 4.5/5

Time’s Convert is a companion novel to Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy featuring further adventures (and backstories) for the de Clermont family and its associated array of creatures (Vampires, Witches, and Daemons). Not your typical “creature” book, these stories focus more on the sociology, psychology, and anthropology of a world simultaneously populated by both humans and such beings, and less on aggression, fear, and battles. It explores the maturation of individual Vampires and of an integrated society as a whole. Diversity writ large.

The three intertwined tales — Phoebe Taylor becomes a Vampire so she can mate with Markus; Markus’ historical tale of becoming a vampire 200 years before; and Diana (Witch) and Matthew’s (Vampire) young twins as they become new creatures with both Vampire and Witch blood — are all about growing up — understanding who you are and how you fit in society. The characters in these different threads are defining and following their own code of ethics, moving beyond the code imposed by the head of the de Clermont family in a clear progression up the levels of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Not what I expect from a traditional (and usually boring) vampire story!

The author is a Professor of History at USC, specializing in the study of science and medicine from antiquity to the present. The book is suffused with intriguing and historically accurate tidbits from the American and French revolutions — characters such as Ben Franklin, Dr. Guillotin, Lafayette, and Marat play roles in the story and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is key to Markus’ development (with great quotes such as “Folks are always in favor of fairness until they have to give up something they have to someone else” spread liberally throughout — I need to reread the pamphlet!).

This book had less action and less romance and more character development, history, and a kind of cerebral world building in it which really appealed to me. A surprisingly good (and fast) read.