Medicine Road by Charles de Lint was released this year in trade paperback for the first time, as it was previously only available in a more expensive limited edition. It’s a relatively short contemporary fantasy book at just under 200 pages and contains some lovely illustrations by Charles Vess. Although it is part of the Newford series and directly related to another book by de Lint, Seven Wild Sisters, it stands just fine on its own. This was my first book by de Lint and it was not at all confusing without having read Seven Wild Sisters, although I did get the impression there must have been another book containing more detail about some of the characters as I read it.
Nearly one hundred years ago, Coyote Woman encountered a wild red dog chasing a jackalope. As she often does, Coyote Woman gave the two animals a gift they had forgotten they even had – the ability to walk as a “five-fingered being” (human) or use their respective animal forms. However, Coyote Woman’s gift is not unconditional. If both Jim Changing Dog (the former red dog) and Alice Corn Hair (the former jackalope) do not each find true love in one hundred years, she will return both of them to their old forms without the ability to shapeshift into a human.
With only two weeks remaining of this hundred year timespan, Alice and Jim are feeling rather desperate. About 30 years ago, Alice found her soulmate, but Jim has never found true love and has given up all hope of ever finding it. At least until he sees two red-haired twins performing their bluegrass act and becomes enamored of one of them, Bess. He has very little time to get to know her and find out if she could be the one, and it’s not only his life on the line but Alice’s as well. Furthermore, a snake woman has decided to meddle in his affairs to get back at Coyote Woman for a former grievance.
Medicine Road is another one of those books that I have mixed feelings on. The opening intrigued me, particularly since it dealt with the mythology, which I thought was the best part of the book. For a while, it seemed a bit drawn out to me and it was difficult for me to really connect with some of the characters. In spite of that, I did find myself surprisingly touched by some of their scenes toward the end and I also rather enjoyed the conclusion. It had some strengths and was readable enough that I wanted to finish it, but I didn’t like it quite enough to want to read the related book or any of the other Newford books.
The mythos was the main strength of this novel. It takes place in the state of Arizona in the United States, and the mythology feels Native American although it’s supposed to have existed before the Native Americans. The old natives of the land such as Coyote Woman had the ability to use two different shapes – their animal form and their human form. There are other people and animals who have the blood for this ability (referred to as “cousins”), but many of them have forgotten about it and do not remember how. I loved this part of the story and how Coyote Woman changed the jackalope and the red dog so they would remember their roots and that there should not be enmity between them. Reading about the curse, Jim and Alice and Coyote Woman was all very interesting.
However, I felt that far too much time was spent on Bess and Jim’s relationship and those parts bored me. It felt to me like their romance happened too fast and it just lacked good emotional moments. Perhaps this is partially because I grew to find Bess very annoying, although I didn’t mind her early in the story (for some reason, I always liked Laurel better, though). It also seemed as though the friendships within the story were far better written than the love story. There were moments with Alice and Jim and Alice and Laurel that were very touching and much more memorable.
As far as the characters go, I really liked sweet Alice and open-minded Laurel and I liked Jim and Coyote Woman. Bess irritated me, but I cannot really say why without spoiling part of it. I thought Ramona was going to be interesting since I love tricksters but she ended up making a rather lame one. Her plans were rather poorly done and did not tend to have the effect she wanted at all.
The structure is five chapters, each containing different sections with the name of a character (or in one case, characters). Some of these sections are told from the first person perspective of that character and others are told from the third person perspective.
Medicine Road had an intriguing main story and mythology, but it had too much of a rather dull romance for my taste. The friendships were well done with some memorable moments, but while some of the characters were great, others were not. It was a good enough book to keep me wanting to find out how it ended, but it didn’t make me want to read more in the series. However, I do seem to be one of the few people who didn’t love this one so be sure to check out some of the other review links below or on some of the book sites linked at the top if it sounds like it may be a book you’d enjoy.
Where I got my reading copy: I received a copy from the publisher.