Jack of Kinrowan is actually two books — Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon — in an omnibus edition.
Jack the Giant Killer served as de Lint’s volume in the excellent Datlow and Windling edited series of modern retellings of classic fairy tales, as it retells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, this time with Jack being a Jacky.
Set in Ottawa, Jack follows the adventures of Jacky Rowan, a young woman in her late teens who is stumbling through her own life and manages to fall into the faerie realm which inhabits the sidestreets of our world. On a self-destructive drinking binge, she ends up in a park and witnesses the Wild Hunt — one of the faerie world’s darker aspects — and intervenes without fully understanding what is going on.
Determined to not let the magic that has found her and now hunts her harm those she loves, Jacky sets off to save herself and ends up rescuing the Elven Courts of Canada in the process.
De Lint has a magical knack for being able to make the mythical world and the mundane live cheek-to-jowl in an entirely believable manner. He is a master of characterization, and is one of the few male authors I have found who writes female characters I recognize. His world is richly drawn, and he writes with a very sensual prose. Musical and literary references abound in his writing. In some of his later works this becomes almost overdone (to the point where you just wish he would put his iPod play list in as an addendum instead of trying to work in a reference to every artist he currently likes), but here he manages it with restraint, managing to flesh out a world on the page that invokes all of the senses.
Jack of Kinrowan will draw you in. It’s fast paced without being rushed, and pulls you deeper and deeper into the story. It’s character-driven storytelling, without sacrificing plot or scenery. De Lint spends as much time on the faerie creatures as on the human, avoiding stereotypical depictions of the fae, but instead making them as fully fleshed out as any of the other characters in the book.
But Jack of Kinrowan is not perfect. The story in Jack the Giant Killer is stronger than in Drink Down the Moon. Moon focuses on the same story world, but in this part of the novel Jacky has been rendered powerless and it is now up to a newcomer, Johnny Faw, a fiddler with no awareness of his magical gifts, to save the Fair Folk. The story isn’t as involving, and while still as beautifully written, doesn’t engage the reader with quite the same intensity as does Jack the Giant Killer. Jacky, and her best friend Kate Crackernuts, who are the emotional core of the first novel, are rendered as side characters in the second, and Drink Down the Moon never manages to ignite the same vivid story world that Jack the Giant Killer does.
If rated separately, Jack the Giant Killer would get five stars, and Drink Down the Moon would get only three.