Eyes Like Leaves, by Charles de Lint
Posted March 8, 2012on:
Eyes Like Leaves, by Charles deLint
Published in 2012 (but written many years ago!)
where I got it: received review copy from Tachyon Publications
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.