the Little Red Reviewer

Eyes Like Leaves, by Charles de Lint

Posted on: March 8, 2012

Eyes Like Leaves, by Charles deLint

Published in 2012 (but written many years ago!)

where I got it: received review copy from Tachyon Publications

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New peoples and new religions have come to the Green Isles, and no one believes in the old magics anymore. The henges have been taken over by weeds, the barrows forgotten, and stories of shapeshifters and wizards are found only at grandmother’s knee.  The ancient tale of the eternal balanced war of the Summerlord and his brother the Icelord has been all but forgotten. Winter follows each ever colder Summer, no one cares anymore about the magics behind it.

With no memories of his parents, Tarn the orphan is offered an apprenticeship by an old man named Puretongue who claims to be a tree wizard. But Tarn learns his lessons well, and is soon shapeshifting with names on his lips.  Often taking the form of a swan, Tarn becomes known as the Swanmage.  Puretongue tells Tarn of a prophecy he must fulfill – bring the Summerborn, those with the sleeping magics of the Summer Lord, to Pelamas Henge. Once there, either the Summerlord will rise again, or the Icelord will take over the Green Isles forever.

Tarn has identified a young woman named Carrie as a Summerborn, but now he has to convince her to trust him, and to travel with him. A survivor of coastal raids by Vikings, Carrie isn’t interested in going anywhere with a strange man who claims to be a mage. A tinker family has adopted her, and she feels safe in their wagon, surrounded by their music and traditions.  By the time Tarn convinces the tinker family that he means them and Carrie no harm, it may be too late.

Eyes Like Leaves has many of the trappings of a traditional high fantasy – mages, dark spirits,  good versus evil, quests and prophecies. But it also has a handful of unexpected twists.  The longer Tarn stays in an animal shape, the harder it is for him to remember he is human, to remember he even wants to be human again. Gandalf he ain’t, and his pride and darker side often get the best of him. Puretongue isn’t who you think he is, and in a sense, neither is the deeply flawed Tarn. The more I got to know Tarn, the more he grew into my favorite character.

Charles deLint wrote Eyes Like Leaves back in the early 1980’s.  He’d already published two fantasies and one urban fantasy and was told that whatever he sold next would brand him into a genre. So he shelved Eyes Like Leaves and continued to write more urban fantasy, gifting us with books like Greenmantle, The Little Country, Promises to Keep, The Onion Girl, and my favorite of his, Someplace to be Flying. Over the years, deLint has deservedly become known as a master story teller in the urban fantasy genre. A musician himself, his stories often flow around folk music, travelers, outsiders, and local mythology.  Eyes Like Leaves may not be a masterpiece, but it’s always so interesting to read an authors early works, to see the beginnings of where everything started.

Either it’s really hard to write a good fight scene, or I’m just not a fan of the usual hand to hand combat scene. Well, Eyes Like Leaves has some of the best written hand to hand  fight scenes I’ve ever read. Tarn can shapeshift, but so can his stormkin adversaries. And that ending? WOW. Now I know exactly where deLint’s talent for writing page turning, emotionally stunning urban fantasy came from.

The ending was phenomenal, but what about the beginning? As the book progressed, the characterization gained strength and depth, but the beginning is incredibly clunky with odd choices for world building devices. DeLint often features gypsy or tinker families, and Eyes Like Leaves is no exception. Other than to feature their traditional music and repetitive identifying phrases, I wasn’t sure why the family was even in the story. Other than acting as narrators and guides for worldbuilding, I didn’t feel they added much to the story.

If you are a fan of deLint, Eyes Like Leaves should definitely become part of your collection. New to deLint and like high fantasy?  You should certainly give it a try, but perhaps read Into The Green first, it takes place in the same world, but was written later, offers a better introduction to the magic and foundations of the world, and is more polished.

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13 Responses to "Eyes Like Leaves, by Charles de Lint"

I’ve read deLint, but only his urban fantasy. It sounds as though I need to check out his Into The Green and Eyes Like Leaves!

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My favorite aspect of his urban fantasy is the emotional kick to the gut (sometimes more than once!), and the fantasy has that too. it’s all good stuff! :)

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I really wanted to pre-order this, but I have a few unread books by him on my TBR pile. How lucky to get a review copy!

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when i got the e-mail from the publisher I was jumping off the walls, i am not kidding! Tachyon did a beautiful job with the edition.

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Love love love Charles de Lint, and I’m very curious about this one. I’ve only read one of his earlier high fantasy novels, and it was interesting to see how he’d developed as a writer since then.

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do you remember what title you read? he didn’t write all that much high fantasy once he going down the urban fantasy path.

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I read Wolf Moon, which was a cute little story about a werewolf who falls in love with a girl from a tavern. It was interesting; he did the werewolf thing pretty well, but at the same time his writing wasn’t nearly as polished as it is in his later works.

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I’ve never even heard of Wolf Moon. . . must fix that!

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I am sorry to say that I have never read him yet. I have seen great reviews from various bloggers of his work(s). So MANY books so little time..:)

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This sounds great, and what a beautiful cover. I wish the publisher would send me a copy of that! I’ll definitely have to get a copy once I’ve got through some of my TBR pile and built up more book funds. :)

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I was a little loath to read this because it was an early work and I’m such a big fan of mid to later work of his that I was worried it wouldn’t hold up well. I’m happy to read some good thoughts about it, I may have to cast my worries aside and give it a read. That said I also have a bunch of de Lint yet to read including a book I meant to read last year and will be reading for this year’s spring event: Someplace to be Flying. Happy to know its a favorite of yours. I’ll be coveting your thoughts once I’m done and do a review.

Charles de Lint is an incredibly special author and I wish I could gift everyone with the kind of open hear and open mind to truly experience just how special a talent he is.

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Ooooh, I think you’ll like that one! It has a lot of the Crow Girls. :D

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[...] For actual reviews by people who finished the book, you can go to io9 or The Little Red Reviewer. [...]

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