January 2007

Colleen Mondor

fiction

Child of a Rainless Year by Jane Lindskold

In Jane Lindskold’s Child of a Rainless Year the protagonist, Mira Fenn, is a middle-aged woman searching for her past. As an independent adult woman, Mira has long ago accepted her adoptive parents as her own and although she does still clearly remember her mother and her birthplace in New Mexico, she does not dwell on the lingering questions surrounding her childhood. Her life as an Ohio art teacher is fulfilling and she loves it, but after the people who raised her die suddenly in an accident, she finds herself nearly buried in one mysterious moment after another. There is an estate that extends far beyond the tidy little house and wise investments that she knew about -- in fact it includes her childhood home in New Mexico, still carefully maintained and waiting for her return. She never knew the house was hers; her adoptive father never gave any reason to assume there could be a life for her in the southwest. So Mira has a contemporary mystery that requires she travel back to the site of her past to unravel it.

After she reaches Phineas House, Mira finds herself on the trail of a very convoluted genealogy that ends up strangely tied to the house’s ownership. The house is in perfect condition and has been meticulously maintained by an artistic caretaker who has let his own relationship with the building carry him into creating an architectural fantasy. Domingo Navidad tells Mira Phineas House speaks to him and while she is charmed, things do seem a bit odd. She does not believe that the house really talks but she has only just arrived, and has no idea yet what the house has in store for her. With each day that goes by, however, she starts to find out just who she really is and what it means to own Phineas House.

One of the things that struck me as I read Child of a Rainless Year is that it is a very mature fantasy. I don’t mean the difference between writing for teenagers and adults; I mean that the protagonist is a fifty-three-year-old woman who is not afraid or stupid or the slightest bit melodramatic. There are no moments in this book where Mira is frozen with trepidation or spends numerous pages questioning her place in the universe and the reason behind the events that are unfolding before her. She is a woman of action; not of the Lara Croft variety, but she’s no Miss Marple either. Mira is simply the woman that most of us would hope to be if we were in the same set of circumstances. She doesn’t waste time wondering what she should do, and as she learns just what it is that makes her family so significant to the town’s history, and has more than one conversation with a local ghost, she becomes determined to find out why her mother disappeared decades before. None of it makes sense at first, but Mira is the soul of perseverance and slowly becomes an unstoppable force that reaches through space and time to find the woman who gave her life. Along the way Lindskold really dumps a shock or two on the heads of her readers.

By the time I turned the last page of this luminous novel, I was not at all ready to leave Mira and Domingo and the rest of New Mexico behind. Author Charles De Lint has a blurb on the back cover that struck me as especially true: “Her novels are a rarity for me -- fat, engrossing novels that still don’t seem long enough.”

It doesn’t happen often that I lament the last words on a page, that I wish there were dozens of chapters still ahead to carry the story in all new directions. But that is how I felt about Child of a Rainless Year. It was a sweet and most grown-up surprise for this lifelong fan of the fantasy genre and I heartily recommend it.

Child of a Rainless Year by Jane Lindskold
Tor
ISBN 0765315130
400 pages