Monday, January 17, 2011

The Tower at Sony Wood - Patricia A. McKillip

As usual, this was a beautiful story with gorgeous imagery. I didn't like the actual story as much as Song for the Basilisk or most of her other work. Initially it appears to be a fairly normal - Queen is trapped in a tower, being impersonated by some sort of evil witch or fairy, knight must run off to rescue Queen without actually telling anyone what he's up to so that the kingdom isn't thrown into total upheaval.

The knight in question, Cyan Dag, is sent off on his quest by a lady Bard. It rapidly becomes evident that there's something up as the same Bard (or another one very similar...I'm not actually sure) is busy sending one of his enemies (Thayne Ysse) off on a nearby quest to fight a dragon, acquire its treasure, and use the treasure to attack Cyan Dag's kingdom. So you're thinking that actually the Bard is evil and has tricked Cyan Dag, getting him out of the way or something, while encouraging the northern kingdom (where Thayne Ysse is from) to attack - possibly in collusion with the changeling queen. So Cyan Dag is off to rescue a queen trapped in a tower, Thayne Ysse is off to challenge a dragon in another tower, and then there's a third character, Melanthys, who spends all of her time embroidering in a tower where a magical mirror is showing her glimpses of things happening far off...which she embroiders, and then leaves on the window ledge where they disappear.

So we have 3 different towers, 3 different main characters, multiple strange bard-type women who keep showing up in unexpected places and lots of very strange seeming magic. Also, all of the towers appear to be in the same place...or possibly not really existing in real locations. It all adds up to a story that feels hideously confusing at times. I'm willing to put up with a lot of that from Patricia McKillip, but this was pretty extreme. It is hard to focus on all the different aspects of the story when you don't know how they are connected or which bits are the really important ones. Especially when you're having some trouble distinguishing the characters. What kept me reading was Melanthys and her family, which initially felt like it wasn't really central to the story, but in fact wound up being very very important.

The ending was quite satisfying. Everyone's motives were explained, very important things got resolved in ways that worked and were obviously going to continue to work for a long time to come. People overall were going to be much better off. So overall I enjoyed the story, but it isn't compelling me to pick it back up and re-read it immediately, even though I'm really tempted to see if it still feels as confusing one I know where it is going (and now that I know there are actually 3 different lady Bards and not just 1 with the ability to pop around the world at will).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Song for the Basilisk - Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia McKillip has a real gift for showing rather than telling a story. She has a way with words that paints a picture in my head in a way that no other author has ever done. The only drawback is that I have to slow way way down in order to read her work. Usually I speed-read and skim a lot, but if I try to do that with her novels I wind up with absolutely no idea of what's happening.

The backstory in this book happens almost entirely in the background. The story opens with the main character as a child, witnessing the brutal murder of his entire family and imagining himself dead. Discovered by a relative and sent off to safety, the journey as seen through his eyes is amazing (from memory since I don't have the book handy)

The moon waxed and waned as they travelled. Then it turned into a boat, and they sailed away in the boat, and approached a constellation of stars that resolved itself into lights in windows

This is the entire description of the journey, and it manages to convey very concisely the distance travelled, the dream-like quality of the journey, the fact that it ends in a boat-ride to a small island.

Then a short while later there's an entire love story contained in a single word. Caladrius leaves the island where he has trained as a bard, to travel for several years. When he returns, the girl he left behind is waiting for him.

"You waited for me!"

"We waited."

That single word "we" contains so much information. It wasn't clear that they had been lovers before he left. He hadn't really expected her to wait for him.

Eventually Caladrius regains his memories and goes to avenge his family, who had been the rulers of Berylon and have now been supplanted by Arioso Pellior who murdered them. It is different than the typical revenge story. He is older than your typical hero. Most of Berylon has just gotten on with their lives, the way people do in real life but tend not to in stories. He uncovers a group of young folks who are intent on avenging his family (they are distant relatives) but elects not to tell them who he is.

The ending of the story is absolutely magical, and I'd rather not spoil it for anyone. But I will tell you that once I finished, I picked the book right back up and re-read it.