Moonheart – Charles de Lint

Title: Moonheart
Author : Charles de Lint
Series : Nope, this one is a stand-alone.

In Short: Sarah Kendell’s comfortable life is derailed when she discovers an ancient Native American medicine bag at the back of her uncle’s second-hand shop.  She and her friends become entangled in a centuries old conflict between a Welsh Bard, a Druid, and the old gods of pre-colonial America.


This was my first Charles de Lint book, and now I have a new author to look out for – I loved it.  Moonheart drew me firstly because of its evocative title and the cover:


And the book did not disappoint.  It met my most important criteria – its a rocking good, entertaining story.  Like some other authors I’ve been reading lately – Garth Nix, for example, Charles de Lint uses the familiar and satisfying themes of fantasy, but twists them hard and keeps things fresh.  There are no easy answers here.  Who is the villain?  Which version of the story is the true one?

There are several main characters:  Sara Kendell and her uncle Jamie – rich and eccentric but open to adventure.  Kiran Foy the musician and apprentice wizard who is maybe just a little but too laid back.  Sara and Jamie’s home, the rambling Tamson house is a character in its own right, and one of the more intriguing fictional houses .  And this is just the beginning of a list of believable empathetic characters.

I  enjoyed the good dollop of detective  thriller that has been stirred into this fantasy.  I loved Inspector John Tucker.  Here is another familiar character – the hard bitten cop who does not “play it by the book”.  But John Tucker is not a cardboard cop – he has the ability to see the human side of the suspects he questions, and is unexpectedly sympathetic.  He reminded me  of one of my other favourite fictional policemen – Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes.

I was inspired enough to do my own illustration of one of the scene’s.  Here is Sara under the influence of the manitou – who are the Native American equivalent of elves:

“The air grew dimmer and the air shivered like a heat mirage.  She sensed invisible presences all around her, watching.  She heart the sound of muffled drumming mixed with the click of beads and quills.  As the light in the restaurant grew fainter still, she began to make out shapes – tall, slender beings dressed in buckskins and rough woven cloth

Her legs started to shake.  She could see the drums.  Every second being held one under its arm.  Slender fingers tapped their rhythms.  The sound came from all around.  The smell of a forest was in the air – a rich, dark scent of cedar and pine.”

My drawing is not accurate to the text – just inspired by it:


I sometimes experience a book as a sort of Rorschach blot – I tend to find meaning in it that mirrors my current concerns.  This book spoke directly to some of the insistent questions I have been asking myself about the responsibilities of a teacher.  Moonheart explores the conflict between the teaching traditions of Europe and Native America, and the tension between them  is at the core of the story.  Does a student learn best when in their unaided struggle for knowledge, and if so, what is a teacher’s role?

Here is Pukwudji – a trickster imp who befriends Sara –  judging the Welsh wizard’s approach:

Ah, they were old and thought themselves wise because they’d grown into their craft through study and trial rather than being born to it.  They thought those born to magic were wild, uncontrolled, somehow not deserving of the gifts that they had to work so hard for themselves.
Somehow they considered themselves more ennobled for the striving it took them to master their craft.

Bah!  Pukwudji spat.

What did it matter how one grew one’s horns, or how swiftly?  It made him angry, this teaching through riddles and this taking two steps sideways for every one steps forward  Tests and testing. What need was there for such?

The Shaman May’is’hyr explains a different approach to Sara:

His people hold great store in an individual’s private struggles.  It is not so with our Way.  With us the knowledge is secret – but only until one asks.

The trust between teacher and student is a recurring theme, and the book offers no easy answers to the questions it raises. Its one of those rare books which convinces you of the internal validity of its world – you feel that the story existed before you started reading, and that it continues still after you left.  I’m going to enjoy finding more books by Charles de Lint.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Window into the past by Edward Curtis « Masha

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