This is my first book for Once Upon A Time III, and it was a perfect beginning.
Marguerite -- Maggie -- Black, poet and journalist, inherits poet Davis Cooper's Tuscon property and papers after his mysterious death. Maggie has been in correspondence with Cooper, but never (to her knowledge) met him. Once she leaves her cosmopolitan West Coast life behind -- gladly -- she enters a world completely unlike anything she expected. The Tuscon desert and her quirky neighbors quickly capture her heart, and the Cooper mystery unfolds slowly and ominously... as Maggie comes to terms with her own heart's desire and the magic of the land and it's mysterious inhabitants.
I know I said in my Widdershins review that I wasn't partial to Native American myth, and this book was full of Native American-style tricksters and earth spirits -- but this time it worked better for me. I quickly fell in love with Maggie and Fox, and was very involved with Maggie's confusion and acclimation to desert life. What I really loved about this book was how author Terri Windling brought the Tuscon desert to life for the reader. I am a West Coast girl and I love my ocean and forests and mists and rocky cliffs... but I found myself longing for the dry Sonoran desert, the saguaros and jackrabbits, and I desperately wanted to hear the coyotes singing. I felt like putting on my CD of R. Carolos Nakai's flute music (if only I could find it...). The mages and various other spirits were not overly 'magical' -- rather they were somber and mysterious, and I liked that. They truly seemed an outgrowth of the land.
I also liked the slow and easy romance between Maggie and Fox -- and can I just say THANK YOU to Terri Windling for making Maggie be a fabulous 40-year-old? I might be gettting cranky in my old age, but I am kind of tired of reading about 20-something heroines. I loved Maggie's worldliness and experience, and her surprise at finding love where she least expected it. I liked her confidence and her knowledge of her own limitations, and her acceptance of the circumstances of her life (pesky ex-husband, no place to call home, good friends...). I liked her ease with her own self. It was a relief to read about a main woman character who wasn't constantly questioning herself and her strengths. She inhabits her own self comfortably, and that made me really happy.
The trickster Crow was interesting, but I was fascinated by the Drowned Girl -- amoral and impulsive, playing with humans for her own amusement. I really enjoyed how these spirits were truly not human -- they had no sense of right or wrong -- only doing things as they feel, as the spiral of time takes them, as circumstances present. It seems cruel to us as humans -- but to them, it's just how things work. I liked that perspective and how it wasn't muddied by too much meandering explorations of what it means to be 'amoral'.
I was also struck by this theme appearing again of art creating actual beings -- or creating shapes for them to wear. Charles de Lint explored this very similar theme in Memory and Dream -- I wonder if these two authors talked about this. It wasn't explored as fully here, but it does seem as though a point is being made that when you make art, you give life to something. Your art lives on in some way. And the desire to make art, to portray something as it is, as you see it -- can drive a person crazy. I think this is one reason why I haven't delved deeply into my own artistic urges -- I like having a well-rounded life, and I can really see how the impulse to create art can take over everything else, to the exclusion of all else you hold dear. It's too easy to block out the whole world and let it all slip by as you work on that canvas. That sounds a bit dramatic, but as I've read about other artists, and as shown in these books -- maybe not so far away from the truth.
I loved this book. It was deceptively simple, but got right into my heart and soul. If you've read the book, you'll know the part at the end I'm talking about, when Maggie finally cries. Oh my god, I sobbed. I wish so dearly that part hadn't happened -- it was too sad. My heart just broke. It was midnight when I finished the book and when I got to that part, I had to put the book down and have a little cry. I'm glad it wasn't a sad ending overall, but that one part -- ouch. It still hurts.
So. One down. Lots more to go. But first, John Harwood calls!