I read this book quite literally to pieces as a teenager --The cover fell off it!-- but I keep merging it in my head with two other books I read over and over around the same time: Greenmantle, also by de Lint, and Raymond E. Feist's Faerie Tale. Still the title and a few fleeting images have stuck with me for 25 years, even if the plot details itself didn't.
So when I saw a copy in the window of a second hand book store, I had to pick it up. And then I was a little worried that it wouldn't hold up, and I'd be disappointed.
Charles de Lint somehow ended up accidentally creating a genre with this, and his later Newford books, that being Urban Fantasy. Of course, this is not exactly what most modern UF readers would be expecting, although it does have a detective. Even still, this blending of myth, magic, and the mundanity of modern city life was all new back when this came out. I'd hate to only be able to recommend it for it's historical place though, it's better than that.
As for what it's about--it's about a lot of things. It's a crime story in modern Ottawa, a story of a corrupted politician, a time travel romance across centuries, it's Canadian First Nations mythology and Celtic bards (and a viking). Manitou meets Herne, Grandmother Toad having a polite disagreement with Gwydion. It is, frankly, a great big melting pot of all sorts of things with a huge cast of characters, and it shouldn't work, but somehow it just does. And I can't really even explain why, but it hits the same notes of magic and wonder for me that "Little, Big" does, except it perhaps has more of an actual plot.
It's not perfect, it's a bit rambly, sometimes a little confusing. It's dated in places, and not always too well. The characterisation is a little uneven, and there are almost too many characters to keep track of at times. Even de Lint himself in the afterword admits it's not the book he set out to write, and not the one he'd write now, but he resists the temptation to "fix" it.
And I'm giving it 5 stars anyway, because any book that sticks with you for 25 years, and still gives as much joy to read now as it did then, has to be worth that. Even just looking at it sitting on my shelf, next to a hardcover of Greenmantle I picked up a couple of years ago, makes me happy. Now I just have to find myself another copy of Faerie Tale.