Saturday, January 10, 2009

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

I fell in love with Patricia McKillip's writing many years ago when, as a teenager, I discovered her Riddle-Master trilogy in the library. From there, I pretty much read all her books as they came out. McKillip's writing is beautiful; it's lyrical, poetical, full of fantastic imagery and amazing ideas. But it also is never simple. Mostly, that simply enhances the story, but sometimes I find it opaque as well and I'm left confused. It's the former far more than the latter, but after failing to finish The Tower at Stony Wood, I left off buying her books for a while. Then last year, I heard a podcast of McKillip reading the beginning of her new book, The Bell at Sealy Head and was entraced all over again. When it was published and I read it, I just loved it and it was one of my 10/10 reads for 2008. At the time, I had some credit with Fictionwise, so in my enthusiasm, I went and splurged on two of the books I had skipped, In the Forests of Serre and Alphabet of Thorn.

When I found that Lenneth was holding a Patricia McKillip Reading Challenge for 2009, I pretty much immediately signed up, planning to read those two books I had on the TBR list and perhaps have another go at reading The Tower at Stony Wood. (I still haven't decided what I'll read for the third book in the challenge as I'm also tempted to reread some of my favourites.) Within the first week of January, the random number generator threw up In the Forests of Serre for me.

McKillip's books do not have simple linear plots, and this one is no exception to that. The reader starts off meeting a wide array of characters - Ronan, Prince of Serre, still grieving the loss of his beloved wife and child while his father demands he wed again; Sidonie, Princess of Dacia who is chosen to be his bride in spite of her own wishes; Euan, a scribe in Dacia who is selected to transcribe the writings of the wizard, Unciel, who went away and fought a terrible monster he cannot bear to mention and nearly died as a result; Gyre, the wizard always desperate for more magic who Unciel chooses to escort Sidonie to Serre. There are others as well, including Ronan's parents, the entrancing firebird that lives in the forests of Serre and the witch, Brume, who sets the events of the story in motion.

In the opening pages, Ronan rides down and kills one of Brume's white hens and she curses him to remain lost in the forest until he finds her again. Sidonie arrives to find her bridegroom missing and Gyre sees a chance to take something he wants. But this is too simple a summation to indicate the depth of the story and the intricate way in which everyone's stories are woven together to make a bright, magical whole. Each of the major characters encounters Brume and each is changed by meeting her. We learn about hearts and one's heart's desire and what is needed to be whole.

It's a beautiful story, but I admit that I found myself struggling a little at first as I tried to keep up with all the characters and threads of the story. About halfway through it all begins to come together and the power of McKillip's story-telling shines through. Once I got to that point, I couldn't stop reading and had to keep going and going, stealing time whenever I could to get to the end. Looking back, I see a glittering tapestry telling a bright tale and I am even more entranced by the story now, with the whole of it in my head and a day gone by to let it all sink in.

I tried reading McKillip's Od Magic last year and gave up because there seemed to be too many characters and too many plot threads. After my experience with In the Forests of Serre, I think I'm going to need to give Od Magic another go. I suspect the same thing is likely to occur and it all weaves together beautifully at the end. Looking back at what I wrote last year, I see that I did try to read Od Magic at a time when I was struggling to read much of anything, so I suspect it wasn't a good time to attempt McKillip.

It's a long time love affair, the one I have with Patricia McKillip, and I feel no need to attempt to escape from her spell. I love her writing, I love her characters and her stories. In the Forests of Serre was no exception and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books as the year progresses. The challenge is to read three, but I rather suspect I may have read more than that by the time the end of the year rolls around.

In the Forests of Serre
Patricia A. McKillip

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Patricia A. McKillip Reading Challenge


Nymeth said...

This sounds fantastic! McKillip is an author I've been meaning to try for a long time. I hope to get to her this year.

J. Kaye Oldner said...

"...I feel no need to attempt to escape from her spell." I can relate to this so well. Awesome review!

Charlotte said...

Alphabet of Thorn is one of my all time favorite McKillips, perhaps because I was able to follow the plot the first time through! I agree that some are so intricate it makes for hard going, but I've found them all worth the effort.