When I first read this, it was the first book I’d read by McKillip and I really didn’t appreciate it. I thought the words were lovely, but the substance was all over the place; everything had dream logic, and sometimes I couldn’t hold onto that logic and follow it through — or I’d come to totally wrong conclusions that I don’t think McKillip intended at all. But I expected this time to be different: I’ve come to really love McKillip’s work, in general, and to enjoy and follow the lyricism, the imagery, the logic of it that’s more to do with magic than orderly lines of reasoning. The quality that makes me feel like this is real magic, more so than anything Gandalf could ever do.
And yet. Nope. This book still makes very little sense to me. It’s ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘Goblin Market’ and Tam Lin, and I don’t know if it intends to be all three or if I’m just grasping at straws. It’s got the magic and mystery of McKillip’s other work and yet it never quite comes together for me in the same way. It’s beautifully written, and yet it never coalesces quite into sense for me.
I think I understood it better than I did the first time, and at least I went into it prepared to take my enjoyment from the beautiful words and the feeling of magic, but I find myself blinking when reading reviews where people think this is the most warm and human of McKillip’s novels, the least mythical and distanced. There are parts of it like that — Perrin’s love for Laurel, through everything; Rois and Laurel’s father’s uncomprehending love for his daughters… But mostly it was so lyrical that I couldn’t touch it.
I make it sound like I really disliked it, I think, but it’s more that I’m just not on the right wavelength. Clearly some people are, and I’m close enough that I can appreciate some of the beauty. I think there’s a really emotionally absorbing, satisfying story in there for some people, judging from reviews. Just… not for me! I was really disappointed that I still don’t ‘get’ it, despite my new appreciation of McKillip’s other work.