Review of Spiritwalk by Charles de Lint
by Charles de Lint
Spiritwalk bills itself as “the sequel to Moonheart”, and while this is technically true, the events of Moonheart are only barely linked to this book. Reading it will spoil certain outcomes from Moonheart, but you could probably read it without having read the first novel. I wouldn’t recommend this course of action, however, simply because it seems that Charles de Lint doesn’t spend as much time in Spiritwalk developing the atmosphere of the worlds in which this story takes place. Whereas Moonheart was a vast and sprawling tale of faerie, intrigue, and wild magic, Spiritwalk is a narrower but more disjointed story about the tensions between magic and the mundane.
This was not an easy book for me to like. Urban fantasy like this generally takes longer to endear itself to me, but de Lint really hit it out of the park with Moonheart, which had that perfect balance between character and plot. In comparison, Spiritwalk tends to vacillate wildly between the two, usually to the detriment of the former. My case in point would be Esmeralda. She is mentioned early on in the book as an absent friend who once spent time at Tamson House, and eventually she materializes to become a major character. I didn’t like her though—her self-confidence and self-possession came off as annoying and heavy-handed. She always sounded like her explanation of events was always right. And though de Lint hints at a much deeper backstory to Esmeralda, he doesn’t actually share much of it.
In general, it seems like Spiritwalk spends very little time fleshing out its main characters. Poor Jamie, now the guardian spirit of Tamson House, learns the hard way that he can’t leave the House behind and wander the Otherworlds. I enjoyed this story arc, for it is familiar and predictable, but de Lint executes it very well. Jamie naturally misses his interactions with the wider world, so he tries to “get out” more. Yet this leaves the house vulnerable to a bad guy who wants to leech its magical power. For all that this is very interesting, however, de Lint spends very little time focusing on what Jamie has learned—I think we spend about two chapters total seeing things from Jamie’s point of view before returning to less interesting characters.
I should mention that this house-getting-taken-over plot is ostensibly the core plot of the book. In many ways, Spiritwalk feels like a series of connected novellas; the book is split into four major parts, with the final, Ghostwood, containing shorter named chapters as well. Though they are connected through common characters and a clear progression from one to the next, each could also be read standalone. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking several novellas and publishing them as a single volume—but then, please, advertise them as such. Alternatively, if the goal is to present the works as a single work, then adapt them into a single novel. Spiritwalk takes the middle path, hence my difficulty with it.
There is nothing technically amiss here: de Lint once again shows his skill as a writer and a storyteller. Sometimes I found the way he uses magic somewhat frustrating … growing up on epic fantasy has trained me to expect intricate, systematic magic, and the wilder magic that de Lint portrays here doesn’t sit as well with my orderly soul. (This portrayal of magic, I find, makes it very easy for plots to veer in unexpected directions while the author claims that “the magic did it”—and while I don’t accuse de Lint of that here, I can’t say I enjoyed the opacity of the magic’s presence either.)
So, Spiritwalk is a competent work. But that’s just it … it feels very mediocre. I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t excited by it. It didn’t wow me like Moonheart or bring me closer to the characters who appear in both. It was kind of like, years after a successful movie comes out, the studio releases a cheaper-budget TV movie sequel to capitalize on the anniversary. The same elements are there, but the screen feels smaller, the scope less ambitious, and the actors weary of their roles.