Memory & Dream by Charles de Lint: Book Review

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Or, a love letter to Charles de Lint’s Newford books

Cover of Memory & Dream by Charles de Lint

5 Stars

Izzy Copley is a college student majoring in art when she first meets world-famous artist Vincent Rushkin. She feels unworthy when he chooses to start teaching her his secrets.

There’s a reason that he’s so secretive. He has a nasty temper and he frequently lashes out at Izzy, both verbally and physically. She’s so in awe of him that she lets him get away with it. He finally teaches her the real secret to his work. Each painting is like a doorway to another world, allowing the subject of the painting to take physical shape in our world and stroll around on our streets. Izzy is breathless at the thought. She’s delighted when she sees figures that previously only existed in her imagination living their lives on the streets of Newford. And then Rushkin shows her exactly how monstrous he can be.

If I’m trying to be objective on this re-read, Memory & Dream is probably 4 to 4.5 stars. But for sheer nostalgia, I’m bumping it up to 5.

This was not my first de Lint book but it was definitely an early one. I was working at my little local library as a high school senior, re-shelving books, when I discovered him. The covers (all three that the library owned anyway) caught my eye so I took one home. I’m pretty sure Spiritwalk was the first. I think this was the second. And I can still see why I’ve been in love with de Lint’s work ever since. A 16-17 year relationship. We’re on the record books at this point!

I would consider this to be the first real Newford novel despite the fact that it’s technically number five. The initial book, Dreams Underfoot, is a solid start but as a short story collection, it just teased me with wanting more. The next three books are darker than most of de Lint’s other work and I consider them outliers. But then comes Memory & Dream.

On this ordered re-read I’ve undertaken, I am thoroughly enjoying re-visiting my favorite characters when they’re so much younger. We’ve aged together. Crazy to say? Probably. But it feels true. Jilly is only on the fringe of things, as is usual for her, but I love seeing her as a struggling artist/college student painting in Professor Dapple’s studio. Geordie barely shows up but he’s there, providing the soundtrack in the end. There are a couple of more but my heart really belongs to Jilly and Geordie. I don’t recall coming across Cosette in any other books but she reminds me of The Crow Girls and I love her for the association. I love her for herself too though.

Reminiscing aside, this truly is solid, absorbing fantasy. de Lint was one of the first urban fantasy authors and I found him more than ten years before I’d ever heard of the genre. I loved the way that he wove such magical stories into the fabric of what appears to be a generic North American city. For a country girl with no real desire to head to the big city, finding magic on the streets was remarkable. The city is where gangs are and murders and rapes and muggings happen. Yet here are these tales that have so much mystery and wonder in them. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of darkness too. But it’s easy for me to look wide-eyed at the magic and forget the rest.

The appeal of Memory & Dream is the same as it always is for me–the strong cast of characters. Within pages of starting a de Lint book, I feel like I’ve met new friends or I’m visiting with old ones. Isabelle is not really one of my favorite characters for a couple of reasons, but I still really like her and would like to be in her circle. She spends a little too much time dithering and re-writing events to suit herself but I do completely understand where she’s coming from. When she’s just being herself, she’s intelligent and caring and fun and talented. I want her friends to be my friends. I want to see her paintings and catch a glimpse of her numena out of the corner of my eye. I want to know Cosette and Rosalind and Annie Nin. I want to experience the trustworthy solidness of John Sweetgrass. I want to catch a glimpse of the shy little treeskin, Paddyjack, as he creates his primitive art and music. I want to see leonine Grace in all her rampant beauty. de Lint’s descriptions of these fantastic characters fires my imagination. I’m left pondering which figures from paintings I would like to see step out from their canvases. Which characters from books I might call forth and the conversations and fun we might have. That is the magic de Lint calls forth for me with this book. If you want a piece of the magic too, pick this up and give it a try. You won’t view art of any kind in the same way ever again.

I’m curious:  Which characters from any kind of art would you most like to see in the real world?

My reviews of the other Newford books:
Dreams Underfoot
The Dreaming Place
From a Whisper to a Scream
I’ll Be Watching You

Find author Charles de Lint on his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Read more reviews at Working Title and Croft Fantasy Book Reviews.

If you like Memory & Dream, you might also like War for the Oaks by Emma Bull and The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Buy Memory & Dream at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. I've never read a de Lint book but I must admit, this sound thoroughly intriguing. I must get my hands on it.

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