A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{January 6, 2011}   The Painted Boy by Charles de Lint

Plot: When Jay turned 11, a yellow dragon tattoo appeared on his back. His grandmother taught him that this meant that he is a yellow dragon spirit and he must find a place to protect, as she protects Chicago. At 17, when he should be working in his family’s restaurant and finishing high school, she sends him to find his place in the world. Chance brings him to Santo de Vajo Viejo, a town terrorized by gangs. He quickly makes friends and comes to question all that his grandmother has taught him. But what if she is right? What if he can save this town? Part of him feels it is his responsibility to take down the gangs and their powerful leader, El Tigre, but he has no idea how to do it.

Charles de Lint writes beautiful urban fantasy and creates rich, fascinating worlds. To me he is, along with Guy Gavriel Kay, the voice of Canadian fantasy. The Blue Girl and Little (Grrl) Lost are some of my favorite YA urban fantasy.

And while all of that is true, this is not my favorite of his books. The main problem, I feel, is the dialogue. It is too heavy, too full of exposition. The characters (even supposedly mysterious characters like Jay’s grandmother) explain everything, about their feelings, about the world, and it just doesn’t feel natural. It gave me mixed feelings about a story I’m sure I would have loved otherwise.

Dialogue aside, this is a very interesting look at the complexities of gang life, the people involved in it and the effect it has on the community. It is also nice that de Lint distances himself a little from the Western mythologies that inform a large number of urban fantasies. And while he doesn’t delve very deeply into Chinese and Native mythologies, the magical world he creates using them is quite interesting.

It is also a well constructed plot that moves along at a good pace. I love that the story doesn’t end when the “villain” is defeated. Jay must also deal with the consequences of what he has done and with his new duties.

Challenges: Canadian YA Challenge (2)


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