Author: Charles de Lint
When he was only eleven, a large dragon image–like a multicolored tattoo–appeared on Jay Li’s back all by himself. At that time, his grandmother PauPau told him it showed that he bore the family heritage of the Yellow Dragon Clan, and she embarked on a mission to train him in all sorts of rules, exercises, and meditations . . . without ever really explaining why or what’s really happening to him. Now at the age of seventeen, he finds himself sent out on his own to find a place that “feels right,” which ends him up in Santo del Vado Viejo, Arizona, a city build straight on top of the desert . . . a city rife with gang violence and drug trafficking. Still, Jay finds a place for himself there, making friends (a first for him) and working in a small Mexican restaurant; however, he finds himself still plagued by the whole dragon thing and trying to figure out what it means . . . especially since he has a niggling feeling that it might be more than some “spiritual heritage” or something, that it might be more literal than most people could imagine.
In The Painted Boy, Charles de Lint does what he does best, in my opinion: crafts an intricate urban fantasy that is both exciting and relevant to issues most people deal with frequently. I would consider him the number one master of urban fantasy–he writes with brilliant imagination, broad-reaching allusion, and a skillful perspective of how fantasy and legend fit into a modern context. I love the regional flavor that permeates many of his books, this one included; the natural setting, wildlife, culture, weather, everything ties in to the story and has influence on the characters. The characters themselves are wonderful–full of life and personality, uncertainties, struggles, and a flood of human emotion. It’s a joy to see growth and change in them throughout the story. Finally, I appreciate the balance de Lint brings while weaving together many seemingly-divergent pieces: the gang problems in the barrio, the relatively small (but personally huge) complexities of individual relationships, the whole huge fantasy element (which is huge), they all work together brilliantly. I definitely recommend The Painted Boy, particularly to those who enjoy a solid urban fantasy, but really to anyone who enjoys a good coming-of-age novel also.