Title: The Riddle of the Wren
Author: Charles de Lint
Date Added: August 24, 2014
Date Started: August 26, 2018
Date DNF: September 5, 2018
Reading Duration: 10 days
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)
Minda Sealy is afraid of her own nightmares. Then, one night, while asleep, she meets Jan, the Lord of the Moors, who has been imprisoned by Ildran the Dream-master-the same being who traps Minda. In exchange for her promise to free him, Jan gives Minda three tokens. She sets out, leaving the safety of her old life to begin a journey from world to world, both to save Jan and to solve “the riddle of the Wren”-which is the riddle of her very self. “The Riddle of the Wren” was Charles de Lint’s first novel, and has been unavailable for years. Fans and newcomers alike will relish it.
The Riddle of the Wren is the type of old school fantasy novel I would’ve devoured in my younger, high school days. Published in 1984, it’s exactly the thing that would’ve caught my fancy, and while I started reading Charles de Lint during that time, I cut my teeth on his later works, and this one flew under my radar. You can definitely tell he was a fledgling author in this novel, and it turns out Riddle is his first. Like so many books of that era, it begins with the locale’s description before it gets to the main character. It does fascinate me how the conventions of writing change through the decades, and what was acceptable and expected then would earn an immediate rejection now.
Both the main character Minda and her best friend Janey are likable, and the trope of Missing Mom/Dickhead Dad is strong with regards to the former. Janey’s description leads me to believe she’s a WOC, too, so score one for de Lint being inclusive even back then. Minda’s father Hadon blames her for her mother’s death even though she didn’t die in childbirth (not…that that would make it valid either), but rather when she was between one and two. Arguably, of course, women can still succumb to complications even after that length of time, but either way Hadon is still a jackass. Minda has a paternal uncle who would be a much better father than her bio, but even if she did manage to escape, Hadon would just “drag her back,” and apparently Tomalin, the uncle, would let him. While Hadon isn’t nearly as abusive to his daughter as the father in Deerskin *shudders* we do not diminish abuse by those degrees.
It’s obvious that Minda carries some “special blood,” not only because of the novel’s plotline, but also because the blurb-mentioned Ildran wants Minda due to her matrilineal history. He tells her she’s “the last of them” and with her “the line dies,” which along with being a wickedly familiar motif,
also tells me her mom was some kind of fey. This could also explain Hadon’s ironic antagonism towards his daughter, though if he thought about it for even a second, he’d realize she’s an important piece of the wife he lost.
Granted, it’s possible Minda’s father comes around by the end of the story. I DNF’d so I don’t know, but it still doesn’t excuse his abysmal, abusive behavior. While I was curious about how the story got to where it was going, I knew it was something I wasn’t going to enjoy reading.
Being de Lint’s first book, it’s forgivable that Riddle is rough around the edges, but these were issues he smoothed out in his later works, which is why he was one of my favorite authors (the only reason he isn’t as high up now is because I just haven’t happened to read anything by him in years). I had the same issue with GRRM’s first pieces, and he’s one of my favorites now. It’s a good lesson in not judging an author by their first work. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that for me, and there’s a reason many prolific ones don’t release their initial scribblings until years after they’ve achieved success.
After skimming the comments on Goodreads to confirm my theories, I decided the best thing for me to do was DNF and return the book to the library, but I plan to read another Charles de Lint soon. If you’re interested in what I’d recommend from him, give Into the Green (which I just recently purchased), Memory and Dream, and Someplace to Be Flying a look. De Lint was a major foundation of and influence on my writing style, that sort of mythopoetic eloquence that I desperately try to achieve, so at the very least reading and reviewing this novel has reminded me of how much I want/need to read and re-read more of his works.