Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Alphabet of Thorn

By Patricia McKillip.

In which Nepenthe, orphaned transcriptor of the royal library, finds a book written in thorns which casts a spell on her heart. She becomes obsessed with translating its (to others) dry telling of the story of Axis and Kane, the two brothers who conquered the entire world.

Of course, the story is a little more subtle than that. Still, I can't think of that much to complain about or comment on in this book. The one big mystery is what Nepenthe's mother named her, since she was found by the royal librarians on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. In the course of the story she remembers, but we are never told what it was.

I also noticed the way some symbols recur: a metaphor is used and then referred to again a paragraph later (look how sophisticated a reader I'm becoming!). Well, there are repeated references to N. almost knocking over a jar of ink whenever she's startled, until finally the calamity threatened by her thorns (the Dreaming first queen of Raine is upset enough to wake up from death and warn Tessera, the current queen, about it) pours like ink from a cracked sky. Probably things like this go on in other books, too, but I haven't noticed it particularly and it adds a nice cohesiveness, a persistence of detail and style, to the telling.

This was the first book by Patricia McKillip that I read (I just reread it), and I think I may have a bit of nostalgic attachment to it. The way she describes magic here is so intuitive and natural: Bourne becoming invisible by flipping a coin and noticing how the profile of the queen's face stamped on it looks nothing like the queen itself; in such a manner do we come to take the commonplace for granted... lifting the floating school, folding space, the way the queen hides in the forest... it's all quite beautiful, and is one of the wonderful things about her books.

No comments: