FICTION : JACK THE GIANT KILLER by Charles de Lint (Ace: $16.95; 208 pp.).

If you can imagine the wry Jack the giant killer of the classical fairy tales transformed into a feisty and clever young woman who battles goblins, ghouls and giants in a contemporary urban setting, then you may be enticed to read Charles de Lint's unusual novel. De Lint borrows from folk tales about cunning tailors and tricksters to weave together his own fantastic narrative about a young woman named Jacky Rowan, whose mundane life is suddenly transformed in an extraordinary way, when she witnesses the mysterious murder of a tiny man called a hob (probably related to Tolkien's hobbits). Soon Rowan feels compelled to explore this mystery, and before she knows it, she becomes the only hope of a fairy realm called Kinrowan threatened by savage hordes. With the help of her best friend, Kate (Crackernuts) Hazel, and a swanlike prince, she demonstrates that power is not necessary to overcome brutality if one has faith in the imagination.

Though De Lint is sometimes too eclectic and conventional in his use of fairy-tale motifs, especially if one compares him to E. T. A. Hoffmann, who wrote unique fairy tales in the same mode during the 19th Century, it is still a nice change to see a crafty woman who abjures violence and yet exhibits more courage than her male companions in defense of an alternative, non- macho world. By exploring the virtues of a "feminist Jack," De Lint turns the tables on the classic Jack the Giant tale in an innovative manner that makes for interesting reading.

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