Someplace to Be Flying

by Charles de Lint

Cover image

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: February 1998
Printing: March 1999
ISBN: 0-812-55158-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 544

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Most science fiction and fantasy books are about big things, about large, ambitious plots that define the book, that serve as catch phrases to memory. "Remember the book about...." It makes them easier to get a handle on; you touch on the overall plot, give the person you're talking to an idea of what archtypes of story are blended together, and from that they can get a pretty good idea of whether the ideas are ones they want to spend a few days exploring.

Someplace to be Flying isn't like that. It's not that there isn't a plot... there are two, really, one about Raven's pot, and one about sisters. It's more that the plots, while important, just aren't what the book is about. It's about the characters, about Jack and his stories, listening to the world, telling stories about the truth, dealing with love and loss and being apart. It's about the crow girls, two of the more memorable characters in urban fantasy, who say the truth sometimes the way mischievous children would and sometimes the way that ancient trickster gods would. It's about having a sister, it's about believing, it's about screwing things up because you're too afraid of screwing them up, about what it feels like to start discovering a whole different way of thinking about the world, about the odd sadness when you realize that some people will just never follow you there, but it's okay, they're still good people.

And it's more than that, too... lots of books have excellent characters, but these just live their lives out on the pages in front of you, open and honest and suspicious and defensive, quirky and sad and scarred and earnest.

De Lint talks a little bit on his web pages about how he's had a hard time finding a good term for what he writes, and that he's arrived on "mythic fiction" as a reasonable term. It's urban fantasy, to be sure, but the setting is even more current-day than that might imply; in some ways, it verges on magic realism, but there's more peering under the hood and more actual artifacts, magic, and detail than I'd associate with magic realism. But whatever you want to call it, it's amazing and engrossing.

The base plot is about a pot, one that can affect reality strange ways if one starts stirring it. It's been lost, or has lost itself, and various of the animal people are after it, those who came first in the beginning of the world, who can wear different skins both human and animal. Two humans, one a reporter from the good part of town, one a gypsy cab driver from the bad part of town, get caught up in the search for it, learning about a world they never knew existed in the process. Other subplots show up along the way, in particular a wonderful story about a troubled girl with a tangled past and a very unusual sister, and it's all tied together in a very satisfying conclusion.

I loved this book. I loved meeting the whole menagerie of characters, every one of which is significant, interesting, and memorable in some way. There's philosophy in here that really touched me, a certain acceptance of who one is and what one cares about, some real thought about the basis of loyalty and why people help each other and what the costs are. There are also Maida and Zia, the crow girls, two of the most memorable and likeable supporting characters that I've ever read about. It's a book that I feel different, calmer, more thoughtful for having read.

It's hard to really describe this one, and unfortunately it's also hard to come by. Charles de Lint's books don't appear to be kept in print very well, and this one seems to be on near-permanent back-order. But if you happen across it in a used bookstore, pick it up and give it a shot. Try the first chapter, because I bet you'll keep reading.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-05-24

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