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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia A. McKillip

I previously posted briefly on two fantasy works by Patricia A. McKillip, one being Alphabet of Thorn. Having re-read that book (twice consecutively), I wish to return to it. The Wikipedia article on the book is here. I'm going to say some things that aren't in the article. Almost all of them relate to McKillip's writing in general, not just to this book.

First, McKillip is a stylist. Her writing is careful, doesn't mimic anyone else's, and weaves its own spells.

Second, McKillip shifts between reality and whatever is outside of that. In this book, the construction of the library, and the politics after the death of fourteen-year-old Tessera's father, resonate with real things. The things Tessera explores could not exist in the real world of the room in our house, where I am writing this, or in any nearby part of this earth as we know it.

Third, a recurring theme is that young people do not have parents, or do not know who they are. I've already referred to the death of Tessera's father. Nepenthe, the other important character who is a young woman, is a foundling. Someone left her for the librarians to raise. She is not the first baby raised by the librarians. Axis, a male character, loses his father before he reaches adulthood.

Fourth, there is a school. In this case, it's the school for wizards, a floating school. It is not anchored to the earth, or at least it is not found in a fixed place.

Fifth, important characters in McKillip's tales often turn away from exacting vengeance, even for grievous wrongs. That is not a feature of this book, but Kane, an important character, does withdraw herself from a powerful army that has been conquering diverse kingdoms without being defeated. She turns away from the spectacular to the ordinary.

A feature that is not, to my recollection, found in any other of McKillip's other stories is time travel. Some of the characters in Alphabet of Thorn can travel through time.

Thanks for reading. By all means, read McKillip.

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