Review – Kingfisher

Kingfisher – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 2016

Once upon a time, a heartbroken sorceress vanished and took an entire cape on the coast of Wyvernhold with her. Only when a trio of lost knights stumble into her sleepy haven does Heloise Oliver’s son start asking inconvenient questions and discover the truth: the father he has never met is still living, a knight himself in the royal court at Severluna. Pierce Oliver takes off for the heart of the kingdom, unaware of greater and darker mysteries rising to the surface around him. In a crumbling inn, a strange ritual cannot ever be questioned; a chef spins beautiful, irresistible nothings in a restaurant that cannot be found by those who want it most; and in Severluna, the king announces a quest without the least idea of what is really at stake.

I always adore Patricia A. McKillip’s writing, which is at its elegantly enigmatic, exquisitely wry best in Kingfisher, but the infusion of Arthuriana into a world of modern day alternate world fantasy is so brilliantly done I think this may be one of my favourites of her books, as well as one of my favourite books in general. The richness of the worldbuilding is entrancing, the familiar bones of legends and fairy tales woven into a setting that includes mobile phones, river gods and knights riding motorcycles. I would be thrilled if she wrote more in this world.


Review – Dreams of Distant Shores

Dreams of Distant Shores – Patricia A. McKillip

Tachyon, 2016

What is impossible, really, when stories come floating out of strange magic? A witch misplaces her name and her face, and gives a wooden mermaid an unexpected lease of life. Besieged lovers share a dangerous secret, Medusa reveals her true face, and the sea washes up truths so bitter and beautiful they might wash your heart away.

I am always bewitched by Patricia A. McKillip’s writing. It reads with a glorious poetic elegance, but she has a finely tuned sense of the absurd as well that gives it vibrant life. All except one of the seven stories in this collection were new to me, ranging from the light-hearted Mer and urban fantastical Which Witch to the darkly enigmatic Weird and the eloquently passionate novella Something Rich and Strange. It takes a lot to live up to a title as good as this one, but McKillip does so with style.

The King and the Kingfisher: Top 10 Reads of 2016

Top 10 Reads of 2016

  1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club – Genevieve Valentine

  2. Fake Geek Girl – Tansy Rayner Roberts

  3. Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory

  4. Check, Please! – Ngozi Ukazu

  5. Love and Romanpunk – Tansy Rayner Roberts

  6. The Wife Drought – Annabel Crabb

  7. Heir of Sea and Fire – Patricia A. McKillip

  8. Tam Lin – Pamela Dean

  9. Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner

  10. The Grass Crown – Colleen McCullough

I almost wrote ‘Top 10 Reads of 2017’, so that tells you how prepared I am to write this post. I haven’t reviewed as much this year – partially because I was reading more non-fiction as research for Ladies of Legend, but partially because some of my favourite stories to come out of this year weren’t in traditional formats. Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Fake Geek Girl was originally published in Review of Australian Volume 14, Issue 4 and is also available as an ebook, but I heard it on the podcast Sheep Might Fly and just adored everything about it. Magical university, alternate universe geek culture, a quirky band, sneaky mythology references, what is not to love? You can listen to it here. If you sign up to Tansy’s newsletter you can also get a free copy of the ebook, which I DID, and I love.

Check, Please!, meanwhile, is a web comic about sport. Usually I am drawn to neither of those things, but wow is this story a delight. It’s about hockey-playing, pie-baking college vlogger Eric Bittle, and it’s warm, fluffy and immensely lovable.

Most surprising of my favourites from 2016, though, is Le Morte d’Arthur, which I read as research and thus didn’t review. I started out immensely exasperated with it and finished as an emotional wreck. Also, with passionate feelings about a great many characters I had no firm opinion on either way before, particularly Guinevere. Insult Guinevere at your peril.

It’s been a…very strange year. The world stage has become a very ugly place indeed, yet so many wonderful things have happened in the small bubble of my day-to-day life that I cannot help but feel optimistic. My niece was born this year. I saw what I think might possibly be the most beautiful place in the world. The longest fiction I’ve ever had accepted for publication is going to be a book in February next year and I started writing a novel that I’m kind of in love with right now. And while it’s true I do not feel at all ready for 2017, it’s going to be here in about four hours. So the only thing to do is jump in anyway.

Happy New Year! Let’s do amazing things with it.

Review – Harpist in the Wind

Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master No.3) – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 1999

Originally published in 1979

Morgon of Hed has been a prisoner, a hunter, a mystery. Together with Raederle of An, he sets off toward the ancient city of the wizards, where the last survivors are gathering to face the master who brought about its ruin so long ago. Shapeshifting warriors seek Morgon, intending to end his life before he can complete his destiny – but Morgon still does not know where that destiny is taking him. He has become the central point in a war that began millennia before he was born, and one way or another, it will end with him.

This is the final installment of McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, which I’ve been reading consecutively in an omnibus edition, and I think that was probably the best way to experience this series. Individually the books are that particular type of poignantly, poetically dissatisfying that McKillip does very well. I would not have liked the ending of Harpist in the Wind as much when I was younger (as I said, poignant and poetic!) but it suits the characters perfectly, and is a fitting conclusion for this rather unusual high fantasy series.

Review – Heir of Sea and Fire

Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle-Master No.2) – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 1999

Originally published in 1977

Prince Morgon of Hed, a man with a destiny that has roused unrest all over the realm, disappeared a year ago. Tired of waiting for answers, his promised bride Raederle commandeers one of her father’s ships to find out what happened for herself. Together with Morgon’s friend, the warrior heiress Lyra, and his determined sister Tristan, Raederle sails towards Erlenstar Mountain, where Morgon was last seen. But there is an uncanny war brewing in the realm, and wizards walking the world who were last heard of in legend, and Morgon is not the only one with a troubling heritage. In seeking him, Raederle may lose herself.

This book could have been written specifically to make me happy. I mean, three princesses get fed up with waiting around and go to wring some answers out of the world, becoming good friends on the way? SIGN ME UP. The Riddle-Master of Hed was lovely but not satisfying; Heir of Sea and Fire gives the insight into the mysterious Raederle that I wanted very much, with bonus wizardry and wraiths. The trilogy concludes with Harpist in the Wind.

Review – The Riddle-Master of Hed

The Riddle-Master of Hed (Riddle-Master No.1) – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 1999

Originally published in 1976

The last thing Morgon wants is a destiny, he already has enough to do – his remote island kingdom of Hed to manage, his argumentative siblings to keep in order – but a spur of the moment challenge from a time of grief is suddenly no longer a secret and the consequences spiral outward, creating unimaginable ripples across the world. Trained by the Riddle-Masters of Caithnard, Morgon has won a ghost’s crown and the hand of a princess. At the same time, he has unknowingly woken enemies from centuries of truce. The greatest riddle of all, he discovers, may be himself. He’ll be lucky if he lives to answer it.

I don’t read much high fantasy any more, but I would make pretty much any exception for Patricia A. McKillip, who is one of my favourite writers. Morgon is a very likable protagonist and I enjoyed the exploration of ideas about destiny, even if I didn’t agree with all of them. I would have liked more explanation for why so many characters are centuries old, but McKillip sweeps you off into a world of beautiful enigmas and her writing is so very lovely that she gets away with it. The Riddle-Master continues with Heir of Sea and Fire.

Review – Winter Rose

Winter Rose – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 1996

Rois Melior was born on her father’s farm, but her heart belongs in the wood. She wanders there freely, familiar with its secrets and gifts, until one day a stranger emerges from a fall of light to claim a place in her life. His name is Corbet Lynn. Long ago, his father became local legend by killing Corbet’s grandfather in the old manor house and vanishing into thin air on a winter night. It’s said the Lynns are cursed. Corbet does not seem anything out of the ordinary – but Rois knows better. Entangled in Corbet’s terrible secrets, she soon realises the curse is all too real, and it endangers everything she loves most.

I will read really anything written by Patricia A. McKillip, who has the most gorgeous, lyrical style and a delightful wry wit. This is not one of her best books. The plot meanders, backtracking too often over the same ground, and crucial points are a little too mysterious to hold it all together – but for all that, it’s beautifully written, flavoured with several different fairy tales without being a direct retelling of any. It has a sequel of sorts in Solstice Wood.