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Kingfisher Hardcover – February 2, 2016
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From Publishers Weekly
McKillip's typically gorgeous prose shines as it serves the plot of this complex and witty story of contemporary knights and post-Celtic deities in a fantastical version of our world. When Pierce decides to leave his tiny village to seek out his knight father, his first stop is an all-you-can-eat fish fry that turns out to be a mystical ceremony. Carrie learns that her father can become a wolf and gets hired by a local chef who's more than what he seems. Young Prince Daimon learns of his own mysterious heritage as he gets called to a quest. The mix of ancient gods and chivalry with contemporary technology such as cell phones and cars requires a deft touch, but McKillip (Wonders of the Invisible World) makes it work, throwing in sly jokes and delicious-sounding culinary concoctions amid the heroic adventuring. McKillip makes contemporary fantasy feel exciting and new again. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Feb.)\n
Praise for Patricia A. McKillip
“There are no better writers than Patricia A. McKillip.”—Stephen R. Donaldson
“A storytelling sorceress.”—Peter S. Beagle
“McKillip tells an intricate, beautiful…tale.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“A master storyteller.”—Strange Horizons
“Headily intoxicating with lush prose.”—Starlog
“Nothing less than masterly.”—Booklist
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Top Customer Reviews
The main comment about this novel seems to be a complaint of its lack of linear logic. But she is not writing an empirical treatise; she is exploring the numinosity of myths, who, particularly in their ancient, contradictory eldest and eldritch origins, are more dreamlike than declamatory. I think of the contrast of ordinary writers and McKillip much like the contrast between Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. Hawthorne's symbolism is as straightforward as symbolism can get; we know that Hester Prynne's scarlet letter is as much an allegory as a symbol, standing clearly for Adultery, Able, and Angel, as the author plainly states. However, Melville's tale of the white whale sounds the depths of philosophy and obscure sea lore to create a symbol that cannot be clearly pinned down; it is more about the mystery of life itself.
To put it another way, Hawthorne's works are multiple-choice tests; Melville's are essay questions. As with Melville, it is finding the answers and the meaning in McKillip's tales for oneself that enlightens. To expect McKillip's works to be rational is to limit her full capabilities for engendering magical, resonant works that linger in the unconscious like dreams, with all the meaningfulness of dreams and their necessity for mindful living.
The setting is fascinating. The juxtaposition of what is thematically King Arthur's court with an essentially modern society highlights the conflicts between worlds, and makes it easier to see the hidden beneath the known. Knighthood and its inherent violence/classism contrasts with the peace of the realm; cellphones coexist with magic. The sense of upset when the knights go questing is part of the upset of every part of the world shown, and is part of what stirs ancient magics within the story.
The weaving in of the mythology of the Fisher King is odder, and despite the fact that it's clearly central to the story's title, it never manages to integrate into a solid part of the plot. It feels rather like the elements are thrown into the story, but not explained. And whereas exposition would run counter to much of the story, I think that the story could be essentially the same without the Fisher King -- which for me is a problem. That's part of where the story falls down for me. The climatic scene does not seem to clarify the quest, and in fact, for me, only muddies it more. I was left with a lot of questions: why do the ravens no longer want Daimon? Is Calluna the god who appears at the end (and why)? Who does the cauldron/bowl/vessel/Grail belong to (if anyone)? And frankly, what are Leith and Heloise going to do? (OK, that's not strictly necessary, but with the repetition of "you need to talk to her" three or four times, it seems somewhat anti-climatic.
There are also a few things that seem thrown in that do not, in my opinion serve either the plot or theme. The entire interlude with the basilisk is very confusing. For that matter, though the two instances of seeing the Knights of the Rising God doing petty vandalism support the story, the subtler point of Pierce, Val, Leith, and Scotia being pulled in to deal with them doesn't seem to have nearly as clear a point. It is possible that the author is trying to recreate the episodic sense of the Grail Quest, but unfortunately, that doesn't work well for me in a modern novel. I want the threads pulled together and tied off.
The part I think is most of the letdown is the characters. Though drawn beautifully, there are enough protagonists that there is quite a bit of skimping on the stories of many of them. Pierce and Carrie get their respective stories resolved (and kudos for not trying to make them a romantic couple) but Daimon and Perdita are almost dropped cold. I did not understand why suddenly Daimon was no longer enspelled, and I certainly wanted Perdita to actually _do_ something, rather than just be a lens to watch Daimon. I wanted to understand better the relationship between Daimon and Scotia, and -- just like with Perdita -- I wanted to see Daimon _do_ something, or realize something (from the inside, not the outside). Scotia and Val are both half-formed characters -- they seem to have some sort of special senses or understandings, or roles, but these are never really made clear either. I know Ms. McKillip is quite capable of carrying these kinds of threads through, because she has done it in many previous books, and why she did not in this case I'm not sure.
And what about Todd Stillwater? I got who he was, but not why he left, or why he did _anything_ else. As a villan he doesn't work for me properly, because he seems to have no true motive, and kind of collapses the first time he's truly challenged. I don't understand why the cauldron/bowl/vessel/Grail is important to him. I don't know why he kept Sage, or why he wanted Carrie.
And what was with the ceremony in the Kingfisher? I know it was to echo the mythology of the Fisher King, but I don't know why it was important to the plot and the characters. Again, the pulling up of the mythological imagery wasn't enough for me. I wanted to have it integrated into the story.
Perhaps the author got a little carried away with the ideas, the themes, and the setting. After all, the Fisher King is a deeply mythological and archetypal character, and working with those themes can be tremendously powerful. But in doing so, I think she missed a lot of opportunities to tighten the plot, deepen the characters, and create another of the incredible classics that she is quite capable of bringing out of her brilliant imagination.
I've spent a lot of time complaining about this book, but it's because Ms. McKillip's worst books are better than most people's best (and this is far from her worst). I thoroughly enjoyed it, I just wanted the author to have followed through on the promise of the premise.