Charles de Lint,
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest,
illustrated by Charles Vess
(Little & Brown, 2013)

A Circle of Cats was a perfect little fairy tale about a girl, a venomous snake, a tree spirit and, yes, kitties. Short, sweet and gorgeously illustrated by Charles Vess, the slim book by Charles de Lint was a perfect bedtime yarn for children and a pleasant read for adults.

But the story, first published in 2003, wouldn't let either Charles be. De Lint found he had more of the story to tell, and Vess was more than happy to illustrate the further adventures of Lillian Kindred, a red-haired child of the mountainside who is kind to animals and passionate about fairies.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is the new, much thicker product of de Lint's imagination -- although, title notwithstanding, it is now less about the magical cats of the forest and more about other mysteries that reside in the flora and fauna of Lillian's larger world.

The book begins and ends much the same as Circle did, but the middle is greatly expanded. There's a possum witch to contend with now, as well as bear people, potions, time skips, death, rebirth and a gregarious fox.

The geography of Lillian's world -- which exists somewhere in the rural landscape outside Newford, de Lint's popular urban environment -- has also grown.

All the lovely fey artwork from Circle is here, too, along with a great many new illustrations that follow Lillian's further adventures.

It's a charming, endearing tale that adds a new layer to de Lint's magical worlds. It's an adventure with some fear but no terror -- it's a warm, friendly story that you'll want to share. And, as always, you'll find yourself loving his characters, human and otherwise, all of whom you'll wish you could know. (Well, maybe not the bear people, who are mean.)

And, as always, you'll be impressed and absorbed by the rich, lyrical language de Lint uses to weave his tale.

A Circle of Cats was a perfect little book that, sadly, is no longer in print. I wish it were, because there's still a place in the world for the shorter, more child-oriented version of Lillian's story.

But The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is equally perfect and true, and I'm glad Lillian kept knocking on de Lint's imagination and demanding more time.

I suspect he's not done with her yet.

book review by
Tom Knapp

27 April 2013

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