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The Riddle of the Wren    by Charles de Lint order for
Riddle of the Wren
by Charles de Lint
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (1984)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Riddle of the Wren is one of Charles de Lint's early novels, before he settled into urban fantasy. This one is set in a universe of parallel worlds. Minda Sealy, 'a small, slender girl of seventeen with shoulder-length brown hair framing an oval face, and dark otter-brown eyes', lives in Fernwillow. Her abusive father runs the local inn, and she escapes his demands as often as she can to spend time with her friends Janey and Rabbert.

As the story opens, Minda is plagued by evil dreams to the point that she tries to avoid sleep. Then a tinker's gift helps her to flee nightmares to a 'circle of huge longstones' where she encounters the imprisoned Jan Penalurick, 'heart of the moors'. He names her Talenyn, 'Little Wren', and gives her an acorn pendant for protection, and porthmeyn; gate-stones that will allow her to move between the worlds. He solicits her help against their common enemy, Ildran Dream-master, who has poisoned Minda's sleep and left Penalurick stone-bound.

When Minda summons the courage to travel the void between worlds, she finds most of their gates closed and ends up in a city of ruins, where 'tall stone buildings rose to tower above her like the ribcage of some fossil behemoth.' There she faces many dangers, finds a sword that controls her movements in times of danger and discovers companions in peril - Loremistress Taneh with her wolf Ruhn; a tinker named Markj'n; badger Grimbold who is both a talking beast and a Wysling; and Cabber who only seems to be a wolf.

Though there is conflict between them when Grimbold warns against Minda's sword, they dare the void together and travel to meet Lady Sian of Elenwood on Gythelen, with Ildran's monstrous allies close on their heels. Gradually, and as danger escalates, Minda discovers new abilities, learns more of a unique heritage, and gains additional allies in a giant and a hobogle. She unravels the riddle of her past and her powers, and slowly comes to terms with a new self, as Ildran and his monsters close in.

I enjoyed The Riddle of the Wren just as much this time as when I first read it twenty odd years ago. It's an exciting tale, with strong, unique characters and enough tension between them to keep interest high. If you haven't read it yet, you have a treat in store.

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