on 17 November 2000
"The Book of Atrix Wolfe" remains for me the best work I have read by Patricia McKillip, and by comparison, this book does not quite measure up, at times being more dream-like in its exposition, not always clearly illuminating the basis for certain actions and resolutions. Nonetheless, the quality of dream contributes to much of the book's magic, combining with the author's rich prose and inimitable imagination to deliver a tale far superior to most other fantasy. And while not all the magic that takes place is clearly explained, as George R.R. Martin recently emphasized at one of his readings, magic retains its wonder through its causes and characteristics remaining partially hidden, otherwise becoming, through too clear an exposition, a mere reflection of science.
Similar to "Atrix Wolfe," and in some ways unlike the earlier "Winter Rose," McKillip returns here to meditations upon the meaning of words, while at the same time more fully exploring the secret powers of music first examined in the earlier "Riddle-Master" trilogy. These underlying themes follow a structure and tone more reminiscent of "The Book of Atrix Wolfe" than "Winter Rose," though the realm of faerie so prominent in the two former books are here barely hinted at. Instead, this tale is more archetypically fantasy, a tale of struggle between good and evil houses, revealed through the magical lyricism that has come to distinguish McKillip's work.
Those that have criticized a lack of emotional characterization I believe have missed a strong and metaphoric chord running throughout the work, as well as underestimated the significance of emotions shown through the subtle gestures and actions of the characters. While the inner dialogue found in "Winter's Rose" is absent, here it instead becomes fully realized in the nuances of the characters' actions: the assembling of a cage of mirrors by Luna, Damiet's fitful gestures, Caladrius' revelation of his character through the various guises he assumes and the instruments that he plays. While perhaps not as readily accessible as some of McKillip's earlier works, there is a richness of subtlety just as rewarding for those who read closely.
A marvelous book: one that will reward, as have all her recent works, repeated and additional reading. Though her tales may not offer ready appeal to those seeking swords and sorcery, there is little question that the author's works are among the few and very best that fantasy has to offer.
on 15 May 2000
I have read virtually all of McKillip's books, and this is her best since the Riddle-Master Trilogy. The characters are engaging, the plot more tightly-woven than in some of her other books (most noticeably Winter Rose) and the twin themes of loss and revenge are well-handled. McKillip's use of language and imagery is, as always superb. If you like McKillip's style, then please don't pass on this book - it deserves a place on your bookshelf. My only criticism - I wish this book was the first in a trilogy, I would love to read more about the characters and their world.
on 29 May 2001
This is the story of a boy who sees his family killed as part of a political power struggle and the way it shapes his adult life until he finds some sort of resolution. The central theme throughout is the music that he finds while sheltered with the bards, and the power he learns to draw from it. The strength of McKillip's writing is in her poetic use of language and magic, which makes it magical in a dreamlike way but is also tantalising as you try to work out just what is going on. This serves her well in evoking the courtly extravagance of the city Berylon. However, the ending is a little unsatisfying - you see it building, but it's not quite clear why. This is subtle fantasy, not heroic action.
on 3 February 1999
This is a splendid book. It is very magical. I can't recommend it highly enough. It has just gone on my Favorite Books shelf (alongside Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" trilogy, Robin McKinley's "Beauty," Terry Windling's "The Wood Wife" and Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber") -- Ms. McKillip is probably the very best fantasist of our generation. If you like great writing, don't miss this one. A classic. Thank you, Ms.McKillip, for putting such wonderful imagery into my dreams.
on 18 March 1999
Having read the Riddlemaster trilogy through about 8 or 9 times, I was pleased to see that McKillip had written other books. This one is excellently written, and has a more cohesive plot than some of her works (e.g., Winter Rose and the Sorceress and the Cygnet). Although I don't think any of her books since the trilogy have approached the level of sheer delightfulness that the trilogy did, this one is worth reading, if for nothing else than the evocation of setting by pure wordskill.
on 8 February 2014
I have never found myself reading a book of Patricia McKillip's mastery where at some point I realize I am not breathing! If you, as a reader can get from the beginning word of this book through the first three paragraphs without this appropriate 'discomfort' then put this book down and go rethink your life! Once again, Patricia McKillip has created a story whose heart of darkness does not always equal 'bad.' And equally does not necessarily indicate the end of hope for release for her characters. This book takes the reader and the characters from the first word! into the 'heart of darkness' but prefigures the definition of it to be something that remains to be known and, if endured, articulated by the knower with surprising tendencies. Always haunting, what will this book be like for the reader...poison or treasure? If you want to finally be shaken to your core by a book, not just another head trip or barren intellectual undertaking, read this book! Touched, broken, or altered await your deliverance with calm certainty.
on 21 September 1998
McKillip has again delivered first-class writing and lyrical storytelling, combined with a mature approach to significant issues. In her writing, the message is the focus--not the genre, and that's a lesson all authors can take note of, regardless of their field.
Although it stands alone like a well-crafted sculpture, "Song for the Basilisk" returns to the tone and themes of McKillip's Riddlemaster trilogy. The book also seems to give a nod or two to another of my favorite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay, whose "Tigana", "A Song for Arbonne", and others stand proudly on my bookshelf very near to McKillip's own.
I decided years ago to buy any book Patricia McKillip wrote, sight-unseen. "Song for the Basilisk" has strengthened my resolve!
on 16 August 1998
Ms. McKillip's ability to put magic into fantasy combines neatly with her understanding of motivation, desire, and hope. In Song for the Basilisk, she explores themes of revenge and continuity - pitting the Basilisk's deadly gaze against the transforming music of the Griffon. More violent than some of her other books, SFTHB nevertheless shows her deft handling of power, loss, and the need for revenge - or at least closure. That she does so with her usual lyrical grace makes this novel doubly welcome. *NLV*