by Charles de Lint – This novel, originally published under the pseudonym Samuel Key, is not really an urban fantasy, although it is set in Newford. It is instead a thriller, focused on a woman, Rachel, and two psychopathic men who are obsessed with her. The first man is her exhusband, who is a stereotypical wife abuser. He’s nuts, but his craziness is pretty easy to understand. The second man goes by many names and is truly disturbed. He’s a serial killer who believes that Beauty is a goddess who has taken human form and that it is his mission in life to find her and to awaken her. He believes Rachel is that woman and he wants to release Beauty from inside her for the world to acknowledge and worship. To release the pure shining light of Beauty, he will have to slice her open… and if she bleeds mere human blood, she is not Beauty personified, but a lie… and not worthy to live.
Rachel is trying to rebuild her life and her psyche after escaping her marriage and changing jobs. She’s learning to live alone and make new friends. She rediscovering her inner artist and her backbone. Despite sometimes-crippling fear and self-doubt, Rachel is reclaiming herself. And she only has to survive the two psychopaths who think they love her.
The story is plausible and well-written. There were some police and dispatch radio lingo that rang false to me, but most readers don’t have my background as a dispatcher, so those things may fly over their heads without ruffling their hair. For me, though, those little things pulled me right out of the tension of the moment and made me wish de Lint had gotten a dispatcher to be a Beta reader. As the book was written in the mid-1990s, it’s too late for that now, but I’d be happy to volunteer for any future works… or for any reissues de Lint wants vetted.
Those moments aside, the book is a strong treatment of obsession and abuse, with a spotlight on society’s role in perpetuating an impossible ideal of female beauty… and on the effects of that ideal on actual women and men in the real world. Heavy topics, but de Lint handles them well. These themes recur throughout the Newford series and it’s clear that de Lint finds them to be important to the modern human condition. He’s a feminist, a humanist and perhaps a realist who wants to be an idealist. Through his writings, he attempts to understand the darkness inside men and explores the magic inside acts of creation. In this non-mystical book, the real magic is in Rachel’s creation of her new life, despite the men who are trying to take that power from her. (finished 11/1/11)