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.

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