Charles de Lint,
Medicine Road,
illustrated by Charles Vess
(Subterranean, 2004)

Charles de Lint revisits two of the "seven wild" Dillard sisters in Medicine Road, a magical and musical adventure.

Twins Laurel and Bess have taken their old-time music on the road, touring the Southwest with fiddle and banjo in hand, and the last thing they expect is to be caught up in another mythical and mystic event. Neither has forgotten their frightening experience back home with the 'sang men and bee fairies, and Bess in particular would like to keep it a memory and nothing more.

But she's caught the eye and heart of Jim Changing Dog, whose time is running out. Nearly 100 years before, Coyote Woman changed him from a red dog to a "five-fingered" human male and the jackalope he had been chasing into a human woman, Alice Corn Hair. Coyote Woman gave them 100 years to find a soul mate, and if either failed, both would revert permanently into their original forms. Alice has found artist Thomas Young and has been with him for 30 years, but she will lose him unless Jim finds someone himself.

Bess is more than attracted to Jim; she feels a strong connection to him almost immediately. Still, Jim worries about how she will react when she learns the truth about him -- not to mention what she doesn't yet know about herself. At the same time, he knows that he has to take the risk because Alice is affected by the outcome as well.

Medicine Road spins out as smoothly as a song -- as smoothly, in fact, as the narrative song that sets the tone for the novel. De Lint tells his story through multiple viewpoints, a device that knits the narrative together smoothly through the various perspectives. The conflict and tension in the tale is the intense quiet drama of the heart where love and fear struggle. Even when a rattlesnake woman named Ramona tries to stir up trouble, her actions are rooted in her own conflicting emotions that ultimately affect her choices.

De Lint is known for well-developed and convincing characters, and Medicine Road is no exception. Laurel and Bess are so lively and appealing that you regret that you can't go down to your local bar to hear them play or look up their website to see if you can pick up a CD. De Lint gives each twin her own personality, yet doesn't overdo it by creating exact opposites. Instead, he strikes a neat and credible balance between the unique relationship that twins share and personal individuality.

He doesn't stint on the other characters. From the gentle artist Thomas Young who ponders the implications of loving a woman like Alice Corn Hair to Corina, the Coyote Woman who can't resist meddling, each is a complex person trying to strike a balance between individual needs and the world around him or her.

De Lint wraps his story and characters in an evocative description of the desert that, although arid, is a world brimming with life, with mystery and with magic. Charles Vess's illustrations enhance the book beautifully, infusing the setting and characters with an extra spark.

This book is a gem, a gift from a master storyteller. Don't pass up the opportunity to walk Medicine Road for yourself.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 6 March 2004

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