The Onion Girl
by Charles de Lint
Tor, 2002 , ISBN 0-765-30381-7
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
(De Lint has given a lot of attention, in his Newford stories, to the subject of child abuse; be warned that sexual abuse of young children is front and center in this book. It is not, however, excessively graphic.) Onion Girl is another of de Lint's urban fantasies set in the mythical Canadian city of Newford, this one focussing on the life and traumas of the normally irrepressibly cheerful Jilly Coppercorn.
On the opening page, Jilly is hit by a car, and lands in the hospital with a broken arm and leg, and no sensation at all on the right side of her body. While she's still in a coma, someone breaks into her apartment and quite thoroughly destroys all of her paintings of urban faerie--leaving all her non-faerie paintings untouched. This is clearly someone who knows Jilly well, and hates her. But who could hate Jilly that much? And when Jilly wakes from her coma, her friends' worries are not lessened; the irrepressible Jilly is now able to visit the dreamlands, Manido-Aki, Faerie, in her dreams, and seems uninterested in physical recovery in her crippled body, with the possibility of never being able to walk, or paint, again.
One of Jilly's friends, Joe Crazy Dog, visits Manido-Aki looking for help for Jilly, and discovers there's trouble afoot there, too: a pack of wolves, led by a wolf-bitch who's clearly a human dream er, is hunting and killing unicorns, for the pure joy of killing them and drinking their blood. This is both bad in itself, and an affront to the canids (like Joe, and Whiskey Jack, who's with him when they briefly meet the wolf-pack), because the killers are wearing canid form while they kill.
Who's the human dreamer masquerading as a wolf in the dreamlands and leading the killer pack? Who's the mysterious Jilly-double that her friends Isabelle and Sophie see in the neighborhood near Jilly's apartment? Why does Cassie sense a presence like that seems to be Jilly's dark twin?
The answers to these and other important questions lie, of course, in Jilly's past, and much of the story unfolds in flashbacks told by Jilly and by Raylene, whom we gradually realize is Jilly's younger sister. As the layers of their story are pealed away, both Jilly and Raylene start to come to grips with their past.
De Lint's an excellent writer, and I find it easy to get lost in his world. I recommend this latest installment, with the caveat that I didn't even consider reading it a year ago, right after reading a couple of other Newford books in rapid succession. I needed some separation, in order to appreciate this book on its own, rather than as too much of more of the same. It's a dark story with an upbeat but by no means light-hearted ending.