September 12, 2005


I agree wholeheartedly with A. Fortis' observations on Patricia McKillip. Many readers either love her, or hate her entirely because of that elusive quality in her writing of formulating a beautiful, dreamlike world in which subtleties are the order of the day. Her work is incomparable, but her universes, at least, seem to resemble Tanith Lee's, in that there is often no single "evil" to battle, but a diffident and soulless way of life. For some readers, this way of writing doesn't work - and sometimes McKillip's work doesn't resonate with me.

One McKillip book that DID work, though, is this year's Alphabet of Thorn. It's highly imaginative and beautiful, and I hope you get a chance to snag it. I especially loved it because there was a Floating School for Mages, which works at the behest of Queen Tessera, who is new Queen and young and inexperienced. The Mages sense impending doom for her and many doubt that she will be able to hold the twelve Crowns of Raine into one dominion. One Crown is already in revolt, but that isn't the doom to come. The true doom of Raine is being shown in dreams, and has something to do with thorns.

Meanwhile, in the library under the palace, in the archives, an orphaned translator named Nepthene is working away at deciphering a message written in throny script. She's jealously guarding her secret task, trusting in no one to help her... which should already give her second thoughts about why it's so important. As the palace falls under siege, Nepthene and her friends realize that the information she's guarding may be able to tell how the Queen can save her kingdom...

It's a short novel, and has quite a rich plotline, so I don't want to give too much away. The ending may frustrate, as the beautiful world ends with all the abruptness of a bubble popping... but it's worth reading, even though some bookstores don't yet carry it. McKillip may be enigmatic and elusive, but her work is worth seeking out.


Anonymous said...

Oh, you beat me to the review! Well, less work for me, ha! I wholeheartedly agree with you, T. I just finished Alphabet of Thorn last week and enjoyed it much more than Winter Rose, which was a little more...introspective.

Anonymous said...

The thing I couldn't stop thinking about when I was reading this, because of the character's name, was Edgar Allan Poe, and "Respite, respite and nepenthe from these dreams of lost Lenore" or some such line from The Raven.

Anonymous said...

And it gets better:
NOUN: 1. A drug mentioned in the Odyssey as a remedy for grief. 2. Something that induces forgetfulness of sorrow or eases pain.
ETYMOLOGY: Alteration of Latin npenthes, from Greek npenthes (pharmakon), grief-banishing (drug), nepenthe, neuter of npenths : n-, not; see ne in Appendix I + penthos, grief; see kwent(h)- in Appendix I.

Hm. So, she's nepenthes, a drug to banish sorrow made from a pitcher plant... so her mother left the antidote against sorrow on the edge of a cliff, and left it? I know McKillip did that on purpose, but I cannot for the life of me quite figure out why.

Admittedly, this is not the first of her books after which I've longed for a sequel... wonder if she'll ever do it.