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Mulengro: A Romany Tale    by Charles de Lint order for
by Charles de Lint
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (1985)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though I read Mulengro when it was originally released in the 1980s, I had forgotten how good it is. It's different than Charles de Lint's usual offerings in that, though it deals as usual with outcasts of society, there is a strong element of bloodthirsty horror in this Romany tale.

It opens on Janfri 'Boshengro' Yayal watching his house burn down. When he notices the 'marhime' sign (for gypsies who are ostracized by their kind) on a wall, he walks off into the night. Like many others of his kind, Janfri has made lifestyle compromises to live in the Gaje world, but has kept to the core Romany values. But someone has enlisted the supernatural to his aid in order to kill those gypsies he considers marhime, unclean. Old Lyuba, the wise woman of the kumpania to which Janfri owes allegiance, gives him the task of dealing with this serial killer, whom she names 'Mulengro', the scarred 'man who walks with ghosts'. Lyuba tells Janfri to seek a woman of the Rom with the true 'draba'.

Ola is this witch. She lives in an isolated spot with her talking cat Boboko. To make a living, Ola writes books on folklore and herbs with a Gaje partner, Jeff. When two redneck brothers attack her, she defends herself with magic, but the consequences cause Ola and Boboko (who plays a significant role) to flee, pursued by both living and dead. They end up at an isolated cottage in the woods, where ex-hippie Mr. Zach Rainbow offers refuge, healing and 'good vibes'. Everyone converges on this spot - Boshengro and his brother, Jeff and a waitress friend, two police officers investigating the murders, the Romany kumpania ... and Mulengro with his train of ghosts. It's a desperate, violent confrontation between good and evil that takes a heavy toll.

Mulengro is excellent as a horror story - enriched by Romany lore, and just enough history of the region (around Ottawa, Canada) to add depth without slowing the story. Charles de Lint adds an interesting Afterword on the Rom, followed by an Addendum (unique to this edition) that speaks against criticisms of 'cultural appropriation' and argues sensibly for the use of a large, culturally rich 'character palette' - an intriguing extra.

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