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A mysterious bell rings out at Sealey Head every sunset, but not everyone can hear it, and no one knows where the bell is or why it rings. Meanwhile, scholar Ridley Dow has taken up residence at Judd Cauley's inn, Gwyneth the merchant's daughter is being courted by the titled Raven Sproule, and Lady Eglantyne lies dying at Aislinn House, which seems to contain another world inside.

Like many of McKillip's books, the disparate elements end up coming together by the end of the book. I found myself interested in almost all the threads in this book, which is not always the case, and I very much liked her detail on every day life at Sealey Head and the different points of view we got. The mystery resolution felt a little too fast for me; I wanted more details of the world within Aislinn House and more of the history of how the mystery came to be.

While I liked that both Judd and Gwyneth were bookworms, Gwyneth's writing felt a little too self-insert-y for me, but that may be my own personal predilections speaking, as I tend to be bored by fictional representations of authors. Also, given that we were given snippets of her stories, I wanted them to be in a different style, or to contribute more to the story overall. Maybe some people liked the extrapolations of the story of the bell; I wanted more of the actual story, or more meta-commentary within the stories, or something.

Not my favorite McKillip, but pleasant reading nonetheless.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] gwyneira's review
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It's funny, I remember enjoying this anthology a great deal, but story-by-story, I think I only really liked two or three. But I really liked those. Also, even if I hadn't, it would have been worth it just for a McKinley story I hadn't read before.

I read James P. Blaylock's "Paper Dragons," Robert Westall's "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" and Patricia A. McKillip's "The Old Woman and the Storm" around when I first got home from Wiscon, which means that I now don't remember them at all. I vaguely remember liking the McKillip but not being blown away by it, but that's it.

I wasn't very impressed with Michael de Larrabeiti's "The Curse of Igamor," which felt a little too self-satisfied and smug, despite the humorous tone, and I downright disliked Joan D. Vinge's "Tam Lin" (I suspect this, coupled with my dislike of The Snow Queen, means I am probably not a Vinge fan). Her Jennet/Janet flounced and described her own looks to me and defied her father's wish for her to get married by going to the fair; basically, she reminded me of every "spunky" romance novel heroine ever.

Jane Yolen's "Evian Steel" was a somewhat more interesting than usual take on Excalibur and Avalon, but a) I've read it before in another collection and b) so sick of Arthurian legend! Also sick of Celtic mythology and Welsh mythology! Have read entirely too many!

And despite completely not getting God Stalk, I still liked Hodgell's "Stranger Blood," which is odd and disturbing and has a whole background and world that I continue to not understand.

I loved Peter Dickinson's "Flight," which was the only story in the book that didn't feel white. I can't exactly pinpoint why it didn't read as your standard Eurofantasy to me (though Westall and Blaylock's stories aren't Eurofantasy either, from the little I recall). Possibly it was the mention of the World Elephant. "Flight" isn't really a story, and I could not for the life of me keep track of the timeline or the general narrative, but I loved loved loved the tone and the world and all the fun little details Dickinson puts in for his narrator, a historian of that world.

I loved Robin McKinley's "The Stone Fey" as well, though I am now completely confused about Damar. The Damar of "The Stone Fey" and The Hero and the Crown both read like the same country, but they don't feel anything like the Damar of The Blue Sword. I'm thinking about this mostly after having a few discussions post-Wiscon on Damar and the White Savior trope and all. Because the Damar of "The Stone Fey" reads very much as Eurofantasy (the dog's name is Aerlich, for example).

Aside from that, I really liked that McKinley subverts the standard "human lured by supernatural lover" trope, and, like almost all her things, I love the sense of the every day, of details like that of sheep and doggy mannerisms and farming.
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This is a collection of previously-published McKillip short stories. I've read a few here and there, but it was nice to be able to get to them all in one place.

There isn't anything new to this collection, so that may influence people's buying decisions. I'm probably going to end up getting this eventually, but maybe much later, since I already have a few of the stories in the anthologies they first showed up in.

I probably shouldn't have read through this so quickly; many of the stories are starting to blur together in my mind. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few stories that feel very traditionally fairy tale to me, particularly the language and the imagery. Again unsurprisingly, these ended up being my favorites.

There are also some shorter pieces, the most different being an investigation into the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Alas, I found that one to be more interesting in concept than in execution.

I think my three favorite stories are all quietly subversive fairy tale retellings featuring female protagonists (again, wow, what a surprise...). I've read both "The Lion and the Lark" and "The Snow Queen" before in other anthologies, but I still love them. And I liked "The Lady of the Skulls" as well, despite being able to predict the ending. But then, with fairy tales old and new, the joy is in the telling and the journey, not in the twists.

I was slightly more ambivalent about the two longer pieces, "The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath" and "A Matter of Music." The language in the first is lovely and classical, but possibly a little too much so for me, and I couldn't help but compare "A Matter of Music" to Song of the Basilisk. I'm fairly certain that the first inspired the second, but I love the full-length novel so much that it's odd reading the short story.

I liked this; it's McKillip prose. But it's not stupendously wonderful, and like almost all short-story collections, it has its ups and its downs.
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I really wanted to like this, but it just didn't end up working for me. It probably doesn't help that Winter Rose is one of my favorite McKillips.

The closest I came to liking this was the first description of the Fiber Guild, of power in thread and needle, of bindings and stitches. Dude! Why can't I do magic knitting?

Anyway, that is probably because I have a Pavlovian response to yarn, so that entire chapter, I bounced up and down with delight and glee and recognition.

Sylvia Lynn is the descendent of Rois Melior of Winter Rose. Her grandfather has just died, and her grandmather has called her back to Lynn Hall, a place that Sylvia has been trying to avoid for most of her adult life. Fairy gets in the way, there are a whole bunch of mix-ups and really not all that much plot.

Normally I would not mind the no-plot factor, as McKillip's prose and imagery and characters usually make up for it. This time, the more contemporary language didn't work for me, and the imagery really didn't. There were moments of loveliness, as expected, but I just can't wrap my head around the modern setting. Sometimes it works for me, but in this case, Winter Rose felt so removed from this world, and none of the characters in Solstice Wood seem to be living in the same world I live in. They didn't really feel like modern people, so every time they used cell phones or talked about CDs, it was incredibly jarring.

I also wasn't too impressed by the conflict of the book, especially since one of the things I loved about WR was the otherworldiness of the Fae, how different and frightening they were. So the conclusion of SW sort of ruined that for me. And I find that in general, I am getting sick of stories of the Fair Folk/Fae/Faery/Fairy/Titania/Oberon/The Queen of Darkness/and assorted other Celtic variants. They just don't hold the same fascination for me anymore, and as such, I'm already resisting some of the magic of the book.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] jinian's review (halfway down the page)
- [livejournal.com profile] gwyneira's review
- [livejournal.com profile] cofax7's review

I swear I've seen more people's write-ups, but I can't seem to find them...
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In the kingdom of Numis, all magic must be learned at Od's school of magic and used for the king; outside magic is thought of as a potential threat to king and country. There are rumors of Tyramin in the Twilight Quarters, a street performer who is allegedly capable of real magic, and Od's school has just acquired a new gardener with some strange powers.

I liked this book, and it's a McKillip, but I didn't like it half as much as I've liked some of her others. The imagery and the magic is still in place, but the theme is a little obvious, and I felt that there were a few too many supporting characters. I liked all of them, except I thought it was rather funny how the dust jacket focused on Brenden Vetch, as he was the least memorable character for me. I liked the often lost princess Sulys and Tyramin's daughter Mistral, but I felt too often that the story was going off in too many different directions, and the convergence at the end was a little too neat.

I feel a little bad saying this, because it was still a very enjoyable read, and I really loved some of the images of magic, particularly the hidden magics of other people and how they relate to small women's magics that are unnoticed and deemed powerless. I rather wish that I got to spend more time with Sulys and Mistral, though, because I liked them. And Yar the wizard.

Anyway, good, but I didn't like it as much as Winter Rose or Alphabet of Thorn.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] oursin's review
- [livejournal.com profile] rilina's review
- [livejournal.com profile] jinian's review

2004 book round up

Sun, Jan. 9th, 2005 02:11 pm
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Heh, the ability to do this post was the reason behind why I started book blogging last year, and of course, now it's about a week late and I don't have much energy to write it. But write it I will.

I am shamelessly copying [livejournal.com profile] coffee_and_ink's format (I hope you don't mind, Mely), whose posts are the main reason why I started book blogging at all.

This being the inaugural year, I have no idea how this matches up to my reading habits of previous year. Just off the top of my head, I would say that I feel like I've read a great deal of books this year, and most of them good. A big reason for that is because of LJ, because of all the recs that have come in, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I read many things I wouldn't have touched previously because of that. And now, my ten favorite books of the year, out of all the books I have read this year (excluding rereads), not out of all the books published this year. They may not be the best books I've read this year, or the most technically proficient, or the like, but they are books that grabbed me somehow and will most likely end up being reread very often. I'm cheating quite a bit on this list and including multiple books by authors and such, but hey, it's my list ;).

Listed alphabetically by author. I've blogged each book before, which you can find in my book memories section, if you want to read me blather on even more.


  1. Megan Chance, Fall From Grace

    Both romances on this list are ones that push the boundaries of the genre. I love Megan Chance's romances because she doesn't bother to whitewash history; her characters are rarely the rareified nobility that populate most romances. In this book, they are outlaws, and there is no romance at all in the way Chance portrays their lives. She also inverts the trope and makes the hard-living, hard-hearted character the heroine, with a hero painfully in love with her. This is not a fuzzy romance; it's on the smothering of dreams and hopes, on the choices that life gradually takes away.


  2. Michael Dirda, Readings

    Dirda is a kindred spirit in the book world, although I can only sit back and wish that I have read as broadly and as deeply as he has, as well as wish that I could write about the experience of reading and of books so beautifully as he does. But I can't, so I am incredibly glad that he exists in the world and writes the reviews he does. His book reviews are like recommendations from a close friend.


  3. Dorothy Dunnett, The Lymond Chronicles

    If I had to pick just one book of them, it would be Pawn in Frankincense, where all the build-up of the previous three books comes to head in a tense climax that left me breathless. Dunnett is very often manipulative, I still don't like Lymond as a person, and Checkmate is pretty flawed, especially when you look at how Dunnett throws in every single romance cliche in the book, but the series as a whole is so large and epic and grand that they occupied a very sizeable chunk of my head and heart for a very long period of time. And despite the criticism, nothing I've read this year has swallowed me whole the same way this series did -- I read the first book over a few months, the second in a week, and by the time I had gotten to Checkmate, I had spent an entire week reading till 5 in the morning, and was so sleep-deprived that I went home sick from work and finished the last book at home in a frenzied rush.

    Also, it's hard to beat Dunnett for sheer amount of influence on other authors.

    The Lymond books consist of The Game of Kings, Queen's Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and Checkmate


  4. Kij Johnson, Fudoki

    This book is set in the same universe as Johnson's first book, The Fox Woman, and it has the same delicate touch in bringing Heian Japan to life in a way that feels very authentic to me. Finally, a fantasy set in Asia that doesn't grate on my nerves. The setting, while wonderfully done, is just one of the many beautiful parts of this book. The narrative centered on the dying princess Harueme is elegaic and full of regrets; the one on the cat-turned-warrior-woman is properly sharp around the edges, with charming touches like dreams of rice balls. A very good book that leaves a lingering sense of mono no aware.


  5. Laura Kinsale, Shadowheart

    After I read this, I was nearly incoherent with glee over how it smashes romance genre tropes left and right, with the added bonus of sex scenes that don't just develop the characters, but are also so intrinsic to the plot and the meat of the book that it is unimaginable without them. While the plot in and of itself doesn't make too much sense (though it is much more coherent than many Kinsale plots), the heart of the book is in the character dynamics and the exploration of gender roles and issues of power and control. Also, Kinsale manages to do all this while writing a scorching romance.


  6. Maureen F. McHugh, China Mountain Zhang

    Science fiction set in a world where China has become the one superpower and America has turned socialist. Instead of using the set up to explore overtly political issues in a larger setting, McHugh chooses narrate from the POV of the titular character and a few of the other people in the world whose lives he affects, no matter how obliquely. Because of this, the book has a much more intimate tone, even while it explores the larger issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural authenticity without ever losing sight of its characters, who are always human first.

  7. Patricia A. McKillip, multiple novels

    I discovered Patricia McKillip this year, after many years of never understanding her books, and it has been a joy going through her backlist. It's probably unnecessary praising McKillip to most people who read this LJ, but for anyone who hasn't read her books, the beauty of the prose and the images, the clarity of the visual metaphors and, above all, the underlying humanity in all her characters have completely won me over. My favorite of her books, Winter Rose, is actually a reread, although I don't actually remember my first read of it at all.

    I read her The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, Alphabet of Thorn, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, The Changeling Sea, In the Forests of Serre, Ombria in Shadow, Song for the Basilisk, The Tower at Stony Wood, and Winter Rose this year.


  8. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

    While I wanted a non-Nafisi POV at times for balance, Nafisi's memoir is still an effective look at not only a woman's life in Iran, but also the importance of reading and imagination. For me, it works better as an investigation into why we read than a chronicle of post-revolution Iran, but that is largely because of the constraints of the memoir format. This book hit some very deep spots in me regarding questions of morality and art and why the great books are always revolutionary in some way. A perfect demonstration of how books at their best can push boundaries and shape the mind.


  9. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

    Like Nafisi's book, Satrapi's Persepolis is a memoir of the Islamic revolution in Iran; however, Persepolis is also a wonderful graphic novel with stark black-and-white art and an often bizarre sense of humor. Satrapi's memoir is much less overtly political than Nafisi's, and it is more effective for me because of that. Satrapi focuses on the commonplace, on the seemingly trifling changes that the revolutions causes, and because of this, the truly horrific things that happen in her country are made that much worse in context of the everyday. Smart, funny, and engaging.


  10. Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

    An epistolary fantasy Regency novel! This is the book that I've been pushing on all of my friends, to the point of buying a copy and bringing it all the way over to Taiwan just so I could make yet another person read it. There's something incredibly joyful about this book -- one can sense how much fun the authors had writing it, and it makes for a delightful reading experience.



Also recommended: Lloyd Alexander, the Westmark trilogy; Connie Brockway, The Bridal Season; Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa; Jennifer Crusie, Bet Me; Judy Cuevas, Bliss and Dance; Karen Cushman, Catherine, Called Birdy; Pamela Dean, the Secret Country trilogy; Patricia MacLachlan, The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt; Margaret Mahy, The Tricksters; Ellen Raskin, The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America; Elizabeth A. Wein, The Winter Prince

ETA: Added more books to the also recced list, because I am hare-brained and forgot a few.

Total read: 167 (8 rereads)

Books finished in 2004 )
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In the first chapter of the book, we're introduced to Rook Caladrius, the sole survivor of a horrific fire that has obliterated Tormalyne Palace and, thus, Tormalyne House. He is subsequently spirited away to become a bard on far away Luly, his only clue of his heritage being half-remembered nightmares of fire. In the end, he decides to make a trip to the hinterlands in order to unearth his own past.

However, he returns to the island without a clue, settles down with the woman he loves, has a son. He stays on the island for another decade or so, deciding that what's buried is best buried.

From this, I pinpointed part of why I love McKillip -- she doesn't write stories of young, adolescent male heroes with an unknown heritage going out to find said heritage and conquer countries or Undefeatable Evil. Her people have families and pasts, they are connected to the world they live in, rather than trampling heroically through and rescuing it without ever forming ties. I had thought from the opening chapter that the book would be on Rook Caladrius discovering his destiny and avenging his family, and while it is, it is also about his son, about his music, and in the end, about the futility of vengeance. I think this book is the anti-quest-fantasy; it has all the trappings, but McKillip very delicately sidesteps all the normal pitstops, which I why I love the ending as much as I do.

The struggle of Tormalyne House reminds me a little of Tigana, actually, except the part played by Alessan and his band of musician rebels is taken by a group of very inexperienced and idealistic musicians with no experience in war or rebellion. They're untried, like the students in Les Miserables. Meanwhile, the lost heir meanders about and is never really invested in restoring the broken house to its former glory. Then, of course, there is the music, which I loved (particularly Damiet's colored songs), and the lives of the musicians intersecting with the larger than life drama playing out in center stage.

Spoilers for the ending )

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] sophia_helix's review
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I am very much in love with this book, and the book within this book, and everyone in the book, except, strangely, Nepenthe and Bourne.

I am also too tired to do anything resembling an intelligent write-up, and I'm never very good at pinpointing why I like things in McKillip books anyhow, so this is mostly going to be unconnected sentences.

I think I didn't like Nepenthe that much because she had the aura of Destiny about her, or something, and also, I completely did not understand the relationship between Bourne and her. I did very much like Vevay and Tessera, though, especially Tessera, because she was unsuited for the job everyone wanted her to do but had her own hidden strengths (me? projecting? never). I also loved that one of the acts that had the largest impact on the plot was the act of translating ^_^. It's interesting reading this right after Atrix Wolfe and remembering the power of words and names in that book and the power of stories and also of names in this book.

Spoilery? )

Really spoilery )

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] rilina's review
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It was so nice to be able to sink into this after interview preparation -- instead of thinking about click-through rates and web traffic and numbersnumbersnumbers, I could instead think about words and golden woods and formless scullery girls who can see pictures in a cauldron of water but can't speak.

It all feels very dreamlike to me, probably because I was reading it right before bed while bone-tired. But it was worth the lost sleep time, because it made me feel safe somehow, and cozy, in a world I was familiar with, instead of a high-tech aggressive company. I'm not actually sure what the book is about; if pressed, I would say something like, what happens when the words you write don't match your intentions, when spoken spells turn awry, when words can harm, and what happens when someone is deprived of words and left with silence.

A random sidenote: Burne of Pelucir reminds me of Richard Crawford for some reason, both stuck with brothers they don't understand, trying to be practical in light of incredibly strange events.

I very much liked Talis with his lenses, and I especially liked Saro and her silence.

I think I might start Alphabet of Thorn now, because am still in need of something comforting and familiar-feeling.
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I sank into this very quickly as a comfort read (while Dunnett is interesting, Lymond isn't exactly a comfort read for me), and sort of marvelled at how quickly McKillip has attained comfort read status. But it was just so easy to sink into.

I really loved the way she played around with old fairy tales, especially the fox princes and the assorted talking animals. And the last scene in the witch's house felt much more madcap than what I've come to expect of McKillip.

I actually half expected Sidonie to find her magic power in the place she made up, given the power of words and stories and tales in the book.

Sigh, I'm really awful at talking about McKillip's books. But it was just lovely and funny and about hearts and words and stories and monsters where you didn't expect them, and I gasped at the description of the firebird because it was so beautiful.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] rilina's review
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This didn't hit me at the gut level like Winter Rose and Ombria in Shadow did, probably because Thayne Ysse and Cyan Dag's stories sort of bored me. But I really liked Sel and her story, and I liked the way McKillip wove all of them together and the image of the woman in the tower and how, in the end, it was an anti-damsel-in-distress book. But it was a very chewy book that had me thinking about images and themes and all that fun stuff.

Vague spoilers )
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I feel particularly stupid writing about some McKillip books... I mean, what do I say?

I loved the thought of a shadow city hidden amidst Ombria, I loved Mag in particular with her pin-laden straw-gold hair, I loved Faey and Domina Pearl's mustiness and Ducon and his charcoal. It has the same sort of non-logical-logic that pervades The Changeling Sea and Winter Rose, and while the strangest, dreamiest things happen, it all makes a sort of twisted sense.

And now I am basically repeating everything I said about Changeling Sea!

I wasn't that big of a fan of Lydea, but I didn't dislike her. I particularly adored Mag (as mentioned above) and her Magness, even though, stripped of McKillip's prose, she very easily could have been the stupid romance novel heroine who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it was a beautiful, lovely book, and now I want to pick up more, but I also want to sort of keep them as especially rich chocolates to binge on once in a while.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] sophia_helix's review
- [livejournal.com profile] pocketgarden's review
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Liked it quite a bit. I loved the strange logic of it and the way McKillip can make gold chains turning to flowers, sea-dragons who are only human part of the time, and a soul-deep yearning for the sea seem to matter of fact and yet so magical at the same time.

I particularly liked the image of a heavy golden chain turning into hundreds and hundreds of little flowers floating on the ocean.

Spoilers )

I don't know what else to say, besides the fact that it felt like an old fairy story recently rediscovered and that I loved the images of moonlight hexes and the ocean.
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Like Stevermer's book, I feel like this one will improve vastly on rereading.

Hrm, that sounded very negative. It wasn't meant to be -- it's just I had the feel that there were many subtle things happening in the background, or with emotions, that I didn't quite catch onto during the first reading because I was still trying to figure out the plot. It wasn't a book that swept me off my feet and had me reading feverishly till four in the morning (like many romances), but it's probably going to stand up much, much better.

I adore Raederle, particularly when she brushes off Morgon's attempts to leave her behind. And she got triple bonus points when she wasn't like a romance heroine, who protests and forces the hero to bring her and then proves to be absolutely useless!

I very much liked how it was a big, epic conflict without the standard, Tolkien structure of big epic conflicts -- big army holds off despite having little to no chance while a small team of people fight through despair or whatnot to get to the mystical goal which will defeat the giant hordes of doom. Ok, maybe it's just Terry Brooks that does this. But I liked very much how small the world felt, how everyone seemed to know each other. The sense of intimacy was helped along by the land-rule, I think.

I also enjoyed the discussions of power in the book -- Morgon's resistance to becoming anything more than the Prince of Hed, Raederle's fear of her heritage. I don't quite know how McKillip did it, but she manages to have the reluctant hero from a rural area come across as non-stereotypical and non-whiny. I think much of that was helped along by the fact that Morgon didn't seem to be protesting change per se -- he truly loves the land he is from, he really desires peace, and he is truly afraid of his unknown power and destiny. Rand/the Ohmsfords/etc. tend to feel like they are more against the change itself, or against leaving what they know out of ignorance, not what the change means for them.

The plot wasn't that surprising, with the exception of the last part of the first book, but McKillip manages to make it seem natural and still not rote. That's one of the problems I tend to have with Meredith Ann Pierce -- I can see the "surprise" ending coming from a mile away. Maybe they aren't supposed to be surprises; maybe they're supposed to be like fairy tales, in which you already know how they end. Except it doesn't quite feel that way. Anyhow, I digress.

And, haha, I couldn't help but notice that Morgon and Deth are incredibly slashy. I've been in fandom too long ;).

And on a minor note, I want to know how to be a tree.
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I read this before, freshman year of college, and I am rather bemused by how little of it I remember. I also remember reading through it and being mostly confused about what was happening through a vast majority of it, and most likely missing the major climactic moments.

That said, I've never been that much of a Patricia McKillip fan because I've always felt I could never quite submerge myself in her books.

I don't know what's changed in the past four years (or even recently, because I had the same feeling about The Cygnet and the Firebird), but I loved this book. Fell in complete and total love with the language, with Rois' blackbird hair and wood eyes, with a world in which water is a doorway, wild horses ride in the wind, light can reveal or conceal, and roses can bloom and catch fire in the middle of the deepest winter.

For some reason, the narrative voice (Rois') reminded me a great deal of Beauty's in McKinley's Beauty, and Laurel reminded me a bit of both Hope and Grace. I get the same feeling from both books, of a pleasant countryside where people live and work and the strange events that take place just out of reach of that place. Of course, Winter Rose's is much more threatening and otherworldly.

Now starting the Riddle-Master trilogy, which I could never get into in high school. It's very strange, as though suddenly the McKillip translation switch in my head has suddenly turned on. I wonder if a reread of Cygnet and Firebird will have the same effect.
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I actually finished both of these a few weeks ago, after reading them in bits and pieces over a month or so. For some reason, neither book really caught me.

With The Porcelain Dove, I admired what Sherman was doing, and I liked seeing the influence of the conte de fee (horrendous spelling), but in the end, I had a really, really hard time getting into the book because I disliked the characters so much. I didn't even despise them as characters (like my strange antipathy toward Vaughn, for example). I was just put off by the lot of them -- Adele was a ninny, as was Justin, the older boy was sadistic and cruel, and Adele's husband wasn't much better. So because I was a bit dismayed by Adele's behavior, I never was really able to get into the mind of the narrator, who adores her (with an ability to see her weak points, but adores nonetheless). The only characters I did kind of like were Pompey, who wasn't really focused on, and Linnotte, who Berthe didn't like, which also rubbed off. And then Linnotte (sp) had to do something horrible to free her dreadful family from their curse and ends up being completely exiled!

I think I also had a problem with the structure of the book -- it begins so we know the family and their estate has somehow been removed from the world and time, suspended in some sort of fairyland. And since none of the family seems particularly happy with this arrangement, I guess I started wondering if halfway through the book Berthe would finish her story so they could figure out how to rejoin the world. Instead, Berthe narrates how they got there.

I have a feeling I'm getting more and more sensitive to these things in books -- I find it very hard to read on if there isn't anyone I can identify with. Also, if the worldview feels too bleak or depressing without anything good redeeming it or casting it into a different light, I have a hard time continuing: ex. George R. R. Martin. LotR and Tigana and the Kushiel series and the Assassin series, while dark, still have that spark of good in the human characters despite horrifically dark times, and that's what makes me hang on to the books.

I think this is also the problem I had with The Cygnet and the Firebird. Heh, I feel horrible confessing this, but I'm not that much of a McKillip fan. I loved her Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Winter Rose, but I don't really remember the Book of Atrix Wolfe or this book. Sometimes her lush prose can distance me a little too much from the emotions of the story. Also, sometimes I just get confused in general as to what is going on in terms of action. And while I didn't dislike Nyx or Meg and company in this book, as I did in Porcelain Dove, I didn't have much on them to hook onto. I was also really confused because I hadn't read the earlier book, which I suspect is about Nyx being found by her mother or something.

On the other hand, there were some things that I really did like: that Meg loved the gatekeeper and didn't fall for the mythical firebird creature. I loved the description of the firebird and his despair in not accessing his memory. I loved how McKillip and Meg were able to describe the firebird's cry.

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