As someone who has always found magic in wilderness, particularly places that haven’t experienced such a heavy hand from modern man, I find that remarkably few books I read capture this feeling. Not only does Medicine Road by Charles de Lint capture this magic (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), but its Arizona setting includes places I’m familiar with, bringing it even closer to heart.
The faeries of the world all seem to live in English moors, Scottish highlands, or Irish bogs – at least they do if you read a lot of ‘traditional’ fantasy. In Medicine Road de Lint reveals a distinctly American faerie land, a spirit world just beyond reach, and shape shifters living among us. This feels both fresh and genuine while broadening the often limited scope of fantastic literature, and intimately connecting with me.
At its heart, Medicine Road is a love story – a mythic love story featuring a shape shifter with a deadline seeking love to avoid the fate of returning permanently to his animal form. Along for the ride are is a long-time friend who will share his fate, even more ancient shape shifters with their own agendas and a pair of twin sisters, traveling folk musicians, with their own past experiences with the spirit world.
de Lint executes the story with his trademark mystical feel of a world where the magical lies around every corner, just out of reach of the majority of people, but easily sensed by those who take the time. In this Medicine Road feels like a modern telling of ancient folk tale – a folk tale that is largely unknown due to its origins in Native American lore. At this level it connects deeply – who hasn’t struggled with love? Who hasn’t seen vindictive and pointless feuding affect that love? Who hasn’t struggled with accepting the person they love as the person that they are (though admittedly, most guys aren’t literally dogs which shows just how sly de Lint’s humor can be).
This new edition of Medicine Road gives fans and readers alike a chance at reading a great novel that was previously only available as a pricey limited edition. Included are some wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess. At 186 pages, it’s also a wonderfully short novel – quick, enjoyable, and touching in a way that few books attain. Not all good novels need to be downers, and I don’t feel I’m revealing too much to say that the warm and fuzzy ending of Medicine Road just feels right.
In short, I cannot recommend Medicine Road highly enough – though please take note that due to the place I am in the world, it reached me at an exceptionally personal level. I’ve been awed by the writing of de Lint in the past and haven’t read him in some time, and now I feel that it would be a terrible shame to go as long before I read him again. 9.5/10