Review – Moon-Flash

Cover of Moon-flash by Patricia McKillipMoon-Flash, Patricia McKillip

Apparently Moon-Flash actually has a sequel, but I’m not that interested in it. It’s interesting — probably a novella in length, and written with McKillip’s usual lyricism and style — but I felt it was whole enough in itself, and I’m not interested enough in the world or characters to keep following it. Their trip down the river leads to an almost inevitable conclusion, but the story manages to say something about myth and belief, about the way different cultures interpret things, about relationships between cultures. It’s a little Ursula Le Guin-ish, in that sense, now that I think about it: I could picture her writing a very similar story.

It’s actually not as fantastical as the other works by McKillip I’ve read before, so that makes it interesting too in comparison to the magic of her other work. At the same time, that’s here too, under the surface, in the myth-making.

Rating: 3/5


Review – The Bards of Bone Plain

Cover of The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillipThe Bards of Bone Plain, Patricia A. McKillip

I love McKillip’s work, now that I’ve got into it; I actually found it a bit difficult to pick which of her books to read last night, and ultimately just went with Lynn‘s recommendation. It took me a little while to get the hang of how this world works: there’s cars and trams, but also ancient magic, a bit closer to the surface than it is for us. It’s nice to have a fantasy setting where there’s industry, where there are essentially grad students (trainee bards) and archaeologists (the princess and her team) and that sense of a past, present and future — some fantasy worlds neglect one of the three.

The twin narratives mostly work for me; you slowly realise what the linkages are. I liked that we also get to read Phelan’s thesis, as well; but then, I’m always a fan of texts-within-texts like that (see also: my love of the various texts mentioned in The Lord of the Rings).

As for McKillip’s writing, I found it a bit less dense and dreamlike than usual, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m used to it now or because it’s genuinely more comprehensible. It’s still magical, either way.

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!

  1. Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
  3. Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
  4. N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
  5. Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
  6. Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
  7. Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
  8. Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
  9. Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
  10. Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.

What about you guys?

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

Review – Ombria in Shadow

Cover of Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillipOmbria in Shadow, Patricia A. McKillip

I love all of McKillip’s work, as least so far. She can really manage enchantment: her Ombria is a strange world, decaying and bright, mysterious and intriguing. There’s a lot going on here: the magic behind Faey and her waxling, the magic behind Domina Pearl, Ducon’s father and Mag’s origins… And there’s characters you can’t help but care about: Kyel, so alone; Lydea, who loves him; Ducon, the bastard son with no designs upon the throne, who spends his time drawing, searching, learning the city and seeing it in ways others can’t. And the details, like Lydea’s bitten fingernails, the charcoal stains Ducon leaves on the bedsheets so everyone knows where he’s been sleeping and when.

And of course, the hidden passageways, the secrets, the two worlds side by side.

It cast its spell very quickly over me; McKillip writes beautifully, of course, and that itself is kind of mesmerising.

Towards the ending — perhaps the last twenty pages — I was less sure of what was going on. It might pull itself together more on a reread, I’m not sure, but I was left not quite knowing who knew what was happening, who understood what, why certain things changed and others didn’t (or if they didn’t change, but people acted like they had to make things easier). I have that feeling with McKillip’s work a lot, though, and it hasn’t deterred me from picking up more.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

First StS of a new month! I can’t believe I’ve (mostly) been sticking to my resolutions so far… This has been a busy week, but I promise, I’m still sticking to my resolutions like glue.

Received to review

Cover of Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Making my sister burningly jealous! Alastair Reynolds was the author who got her back into reading when I handed her Century Rain; she hasn’t looked back since, and she’s read that one at least three times. I’ve read this already, but it’s actually a while before the review goes up… I’ve gotten awfully ahead of myself with scheduling!


Cover of Od Magic by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip Cover of Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip

Cover of In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

25050340 Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

I’ve been meaning to buy the SF Gateway Omnibuses of McKillip’s work for a while. Now I have them (thanks, Mum). I got The Mirror World of Melody Black because I loved The Universe vs Alex Woods, and Voyage of the Basilisk because I didn’t get round to my ARC in time. Also, I now have The Just City, which I didn’t own yet. I swear I’m gonna get a review up for it soon.


Cover of Master And God by Lindsey Davis Cover of Ringworld by Larry Niven Cover of Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Cover of The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino Cover of On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

I’ve been meaning to try Lindsey Davis for aaaages. This one is apparently a standalone, according to someone I was on duty with at the library, so that’s where I’m going to start — since we don’t have the first Falco book. Gah. Anyway, the others are mostly fairly random picks, except for Ringworld which is another upcoming read for the SF/F Book Club in Cardiff.


Spider-Gwen Operation S.I.N

Yay Spider-Gwen!

And to finish off, a couple of things I’ve added to my lists lately on Scribd and Blloon.

Cover of The Sanctuary Seeker by Bernard Knight Cover of Trance by Kelly Meding Cover of Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

So yeah, as usual, I have plenty on my plate. What’s anyone else been getting? Are you gonna make me expand my never ending to read list…?

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is ‘Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When It Comes To Romances In Books’.

Top Five I Like:

  1. Intensity. I like to see some give and take. The ability to say ‘you’re wrong’, yell at someone, and still have them respect you.
  2. Communication. Talk. To. Them. (The flipside, miscommunication, tends to really embarrass me — I’m easy to embarrass.)
  3. Forbidden love. Actually, this has to be done right, but I spent most of my academic study on Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde. Rosalind Miles’ take on both failed for me, but Steinbeck did Lancelot and Guinevere in a lovely way, and I’ve played with both stories in my own writing.
  4. “I see who you really are.” The classic is, of course, Beauty and the Beast.
  5. Equal partnership. Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle might not be the most popular couple in the Arthurian canon, but they’re my favourite by far. Challenged to tell another knight what women want most or be killed, Arthur flounders. A really ugly woman comes to court and says she will give the answer — if Sir Gawain marries her. He says yes, of course, and she gives the answer that saves Arthur’s life: “sovereignty”, the power to choose for oneself, is what women most want. So the wedding goes ahead, but on their wedding night, Ragnelle turns out to be a beautiful young maiden. She asks Gawain whether he would rather she be a beautiful woman in the daytime, when everyone can see her, or at night, when only he can. He lets her choose — which breaks the whole spell she’s under, because he has given her “sovereynté”. It’s maybe the most equal partnership in Arthurian literature, because it’s not from courtly literature where a knight is supposed to worship his lady, and yet it still gives power to the female partner, and shows him respecting her.

Top Five I Dislike: 

  1. “You are a precious little flower and I will protect you.” Enough said.
  2. Stalking = love. Just say no.
  3. Keeping secrets. I guess that’s often related to #1, but yeesh, come on, be honest. (Circumvented if this has consequences, though. Like in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.)
  4. Insta-love. Still needs saying, apparently. Which is actually where people fall down for me even if the things I mentioned above are alright!
  5. “I’m too low/high in station to marry you.” This can be played well (come on, I like Jane Eyre), but after a certain era, the class implications become too awful.

And if you’re really curious, you can read ‘The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’ for yourselves here; someday I will both translate the original into modern English, and write my own novel based on it, if I get all my dreams.

Review – Winter Rose

Cover of Winter Rose by Patricia McKillipWinter Rose, Patricia A. McKillip

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.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Cover of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillipThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip

Somehow, from the midst of feeling dreadful because of this cold, I realised that what I really wanted to read was something by Patricia McKillip. It’s so strange how I disliked the first book of hers I read; I feel like I appreciate her work more with each book I do read. And this one… it’s fairytale-like, mythic — a review on GR said ‘parable like’, and yes: that too. It’s full of epic fantasy elements but the real struggle is between taking revenge and being true to who you really are and those you love. (The phrase “being true to yourself” sounds annoyingly cliché, but I can’t think of another way to put that without quoting the whole book.)

McKillip’s writing is gorgeous, and works well with the character she’s chosen — a girl who has not been loved, does not know how to love; who hasn’t been among people to be drawn into loves and hatreds. And in the course of the book she does learn, and she struggles with it… There’s a coolness to the book, like a mountain stream; an aloofness that you can get with distance from something, but toward everything. I can understand why some people disliked it for that very thing, but for me it perfectly matched the subject.

I like high fantasy, but since so much of it draws from the same well as Tolkien, there’s something all too real about it sometimes. This book, the character of Sybel, are closer to real magic for me, in the same way that the contemplative parts of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books (the sleeping man with the thistle growing by his hand…) come closer to real magic for me than all the magic rings and restless shades in the world.

And one last thing to love: I adore the way that the relationship between Coren and Sybel works out. That it has to be worked on, from both sides, that it’s not always matched.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Wonders of the Invisible World

Cover of Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillipWonders of the Invisible World, Patricia A. McKillip

Of all Patricia McKillip’s writings, perhaps this one is the most accessible. The short stories seem to have a different tone to her longer works — something less poetic, more matter of fact. It’s a great collection: pretty much all of the stories are strong, and each one contains a whole world — and each world is so very different from the next. There are some which are more like her novels, and oddly they seem to be ones which people who’re fans of her novels like less, based on the review. Maybe it’s because a novel may digress, may take time simply being lovely: poetry and short stories have to go right to the heart of it, whatever that heart is. Something that feels a bit too vague and artsy can come up totally inconclusive as a short story: that’s how I felt about just a couple of these, particularly ‘Xmas Cruise’. On the other hand, the twist and uncertainty in ‘Hunter’s Moon’ works really well — I’m just not sure that I’m meant to feel so vague about ‘Xmas Cruise’. It made me feel like I was missing something.

Most of the time, though, the stories are pretty strong. I wasn’t sure about some of them, and then they revealed themselves — the Arthurian twist in ‘Out of the Woods’ made me smile, and the way it contrasts the two worlds by laying them side by side, never saying anything explicitly about one or the other world, how they fit together. I think my favourite story was ‘Knight of the Well’; McKillip builds up a whole fantasy world, acquaints you wish it, turns it upside down and settles it down again in the space of what’s still a pretty short story.

Overall, a great collection; McKillip’s way with words remains a strength. The contemporary feel of a couple of these didn’t sit that well with me, partly because I was expecting something more olde-worlde, something to match the mythical look of the cover. Other people might find it the best ‘in’ to McKillip’s work they’ve ever had, though.

Rating: 4/5