Svaha is the first non-Newford novel I’ve read by Charles de Lint (I’ve read non-Newford short stories, but not novels), and it really surprised me in a good way. When I first started it I thought it was confusing, because it’s a fantasy and yet it’s science fiction, and so many characters and languages and names and other things were thrown at me from the beginning and it was difficult making sense of it all. But after awhile I got used to it, and I just became quite absorbed into the story.
The story is set in a future where everything is a wasteland (we’ve pretty much destroyed the world with pollution and war), save for the Enclaves where the Native Americans have retreated into. Everything started with a chip from the Enclaves, which might provide with the information on how to break into the Enclaves where the world was still unspoiled. Lisa, the messenger who was supposed to deliver the chip to the yakuza, had to run for her life since it was stolen from her. It was during this time that she met Gahzee, a Native who left the Enclaves in order to retrieve the chip. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, but that’s the gist of it, I guess.
The use of Japanese in the book can be quite distracting. Most of the time it was okay, and even appropriate, so it really fits in with the whole setting. But there are parts when the use of Japanese was actually incorrect (say, the character would say one thing and the translation provided would say something else entirely) or inappropriate (saying the Japanese equivalent of “my bad” when the situation and people involved would make it more in-character to say “I humbly apologise”, for example). And it always irritates me when people say “mushi mushi“~! There are also a few cultural stereotypes that didn’t sit too well with me, but it kind of fit the tone of the novel, where each group/tribe/culture/clan had these ideas of what the others are like, that they get from gossip or videos or were just told the same thing for so long that they never questioned it. And for the most part, when they actually come to know the others, they realise that everyone is just human, and we all have the same potentials and weaknesses. The book ends with a hopeful note, giving the message that it is possible to set aside our cultural differences and work together.
As a whole, the ideas in the novel may be a little too simplistic or cliched at times. It is definitely not one of de Lint’s strongest work, and it won’t take down Promises To Keep from it’s current spot as my Current Favourite Charles de Lint Book. But I still find it one of the most interesting de Lint novels I’ve read. I enjoyed this book because it’s so different from the other Charles de Lint novels. I wish that there are more books set in this world because I liked the characters, and the setting. And it’s a trickster story, too! How many trickster sci-fi novels are there out there? I would recommend this to any Charles de Lint fan, although I’d tell newcomers to check out the Newford books first.
~ originally posted on blogspot