Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip, a book review

Recently, I went back and reread several Patricia McKillip books, something I do every now and again. I hadn't read Solstice Wood in some time and thought I'd give it another try.

It had been some time since I read Solstice Wood because my first look at it(1) was disappointing. Oh, I liked bits of it--the fairy changeling, for example, and the meetings of old friends--but overall, I was disappointed. Winter Rose has long been on my list of "favorite books ever" in part because of the marvelous, terrible, magnificent Queen of Faerie(2). She is sidelined for large parts of Solstice Wood, and that made me mad.

On the other hand, it is by McKillip, and I had recently reread almost everything that I and the library own between us had, so I tried again.

And I liked it much better than I expected. Relyt (the changeling) is awesome. His response to chocolate chip cookies made me laugh, and his reflection on the Queen was pitch perfect; he spoke of her the way a plant might talk about the sun, if it could. If I had never read Winter Rose, I would have really loved the sewing circle magic, and I did like the meeting itself, and the form of magic. Iris/Gran is an admirable matriarch, working to protect her people. The cousinly friendship between Tyler and Sylvia is wonderful; very few books manage family relationships this comfortably.

The book's writing is a little more plain prose than McKillip usually writes, but still has plenty of poetry and power to it. The point of view switching is unusual for McKillip only in that she only switches with chapters rather than moving freely among them every few pages. In fact, I found myself relaxing into the story and thoroughly enjoying it, right up until near the end.

And there we come to the sticking point: Right at the end, the regal Queen of Faerie steps out and asks the local women if they would mind terribly relaxing the boundaries around the town and letting her in and does a quick sort of show to demonstrate that she can be the lovely spring as well as the terrible winter, and really, everyone needs her sort of wild, untamed mystery around. And... that's where the book derails. I had gotten the point a while ago, without anyone needing to spell it out. Also, I have a certain amount of trouble with the Queen being fully blocked by one town (though the implication is that she's kept out of cities as well) and finding this quite such a problem, so I got sulky again and decided maybe I didn't like the book after all.

And then I looked at Relyt on chocolate chip cookies and cheese sandwiches again and thought maybe I did.

So it's still not one of my favorites. Maybe it's better than I thought at first.

Mostly, though, I'll probably stick to rereading The Tower at Stony Wood, Od Magic, and Ombria in Shadow. Other books, too, of course, but those happen to be my favorite McKillip books. Bards of Bone Plain might make their number. I'm not sure yet, though. It will take another reading or two.

(1)Found here on Amazon, if anyone is interested. I very occasionally have posted reviews there. Every now and again, I consider cross-posting the book review parts of the blog there.

(2) Though it has also been a really, really long time since I read it, mostly because I wrote a serious, scholarly, literary critical article on it, and now I'm not sure I'll be able to look at it again with the same wonder. Probably I shouldn't worry. Most books come through the process either unscathed or improved by the process. But... I still find myself not picking Winter Rose up when I reach for McKillip.

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