kinda scary woman on a horse with more mounted people on a bridge in the background.This long-out-of-print novel has been re-released by Firebird Books in a handsomely produced trade paperback. I’ve still got my old mass-market paperback around here somewhere, but it’s nice to have a good reading copy of this book.

Originally published as an entry in Tor’s fairy tale series, it is a retelling of an old fairy story. In this case the ballad of Tam Lin. This is not at all vital information to the enjoyment of the book, however. Dean’s books are always focussed mainly on their characters, and the plot, while not an afterthought, seems inevitable and somewhat mundane, sort of like real life. The book’s main character is Janet Carter, a newly matriculated college student at a midwest liberal arts college (modeled on the one where Dean was an undergrad). The other characters are Janet’s dorm room mates, her family, her teachers, and other students. The fantasy elements and the links to the ballad are subtle and, to Janet, somewhat bewildering.

Janet is an English major, but she falls in with a crowd who are mostly classics majors, so there are many many references to English and classical literature thrown about as if everyone had read Homer in the original Greek or had memorized Shakespeare’s plays as a child. In less capable hands this sort of lofty material could be off-putting, but instead, at least for me, the result is rather charming and makes me wish I’d spent my youth reading plays instead of whatever it was I did do.

This pattern of things which should be annoying failing to illicit that response recurs in several areas of the book so I would be leery of recommending it to others in fear that I am somehow among the small perfect audience for the book. However Tam Lin has many fans (besides me if I haven’t made that clear) so perhaps it is merely a property of the book itself. Give it a try and let me know what you think.