Charles de Lint,
(Ace, 1989; Orb, 2000)

I'm a big fan of Charles de Lint. Until now, A Place to Be Flying was my favorite. Svaha is different, in many ways. First of all, it's not typical de Lint. Most of his works take place now, and many take place in a fictional city called Newford (imagine an East Coast version of Vancouver). Svaha takes place in the future, in a real place (or, at least, de Lint's vision of a real place as it is in the future). Many of de Lint's books incorporate Native American cultural concepts; Svaha does this too, but also has a heavy component of Japanese culture.

This is probably already sounding weird, but it gets weirder. The setting is the corridor between Quebec and Toronto in a future where biochemical warfare and pollution have destroyed most of Western culture. The Japanese have moved in and, with a return to the Samurai culture, have set up fiefdoms across North America.

Meanwhile, the different aboriginal tribes of the world, including Native Americans, have gone to the World Court, won back big pieces of their former land, created their own Enclaves, heavily educated their young, shrugged off the influences of Western culture that had hurt them and established mini-societies that are both highly technological and strongly based in tribal traditions, legends, ceremonies and beliefs. Eventually, the aboriginal Enclaves wall themselves off from the rest of the world with impenetrable energy shields, heal the land within their Enclaves and break off contact with the outside world.

At the start of Svaha (a Native American word for the time of expectancy, between the lightning strike and the thunder), a Samurai lord captures a highly advanced ship from an Enclave, but has a piece of critical technology stolen from it. The Enclave sends a representative on a mission to recover and destroy that technology before it gives the Samurai a chance to catch up, technologically. Of course, everyone is looking for this highly valuable piece of science -- the Samurai lord, his rivals, the underclass.

As usual, the writing is excellent. What else would one expect from de Lint? The characters are very real. The world he portrays is frighteningly loathsome -- and feasible. The story takes time to get rolling, as de Lint lays a lot of cultural and character groundwork (this early slow pace is another de Lint trademark), and then becomes a juggernaut. This is an astounding book that you will never forget. I learned much about Native American and traditional Japanese culture. It raised my standards for all books I read. Again, what else would one expect from Charles de Lint?

by Chris McCallister
11 March 2006

Buy it from