The wonderful writer Patricia A. McKillip has died, at 74. She was a leap day birth, so back when I was doing "birthday reviews" it was a while before I had a chance to do one for her, and when I did it was a reprint of a review I did of The Bell of Sealey Head.
Sadly, before another of her quadrennial birthdays came up, she died. And in her memory, I have compiled a few other things I wrote about her work. Alas, I didn't really write a great deal about her best work -- a few short reviews of short fiction for Locus, or for my blog, and the shortish piece below about Od Magic, a nice novel but not her best.
I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and the Riddle-Master books in the early '80s with enjoyment, but it was her glorious Winter Rose, from 1996, that turned me into a true fan, and from that point I read each of her nicely sized novels, one every year or two for about 15 years, always with a lovely Kinuko Craft cover, until she slowed down in the past decade or so. But the way things worked out Od Magic (a minor novel) and The Bell of Sealey Head (which I like rather better) are the only two I wrote about. So this is my tribute!
Review of Od Magic
Patricia A. McKillip's latest novel, Od Magic, is not part of a series. But it is one of a consistent set of novels that she puts out, pretty much one per year, tidily sized (about 90,000 words in this case), tidily shaped. In Od Magic there are no bad guys, just temporarily misled people. Which isn't a bad or dishonest thing, really. But in this particular case it does sort of dull the edge of the book.
Od is a legendary female wizard, very long lived but hardly ever seen. Centuries earlier she founded a school of wizardry in Kelior, the capital city of the Kingdom of Numis. Now she appears to a young man in the North named Brenden Vetch, and asks him to go to her school to be the gardener, and to look for the door under the shoe.
I confess I expected a story about Brenden, but this isn't what McKillip was after. Instead she follows a variety of people: Brenden of course, but also the influential wizard of Od's school, Yar; his politically connected lover Ceta; the High Warden's son, another Warden (that is to say, policeman), Arneth Pyt; the King's daughter, Princess Sulys, who is about to be married to a man she doesn't know, a priggish but powerful wizard; and the small-time wizard (small-time? perhaps!) Tyramin and his enigmatic daughter. The story revolves about the King's concern about the potential abilities of Tyramin, who is not under his control, and about Sulys's desire to actually have a chance to know her husband, and moreover her desire to use certain small powers she possesses, and about Yar's concern that his school -- Od's school -- may have become hidebound, too much a tool of the King (even though the King seems for the most part a pretty good King). And also about Brenden Vetch, and his quite remarkable powers, and his connection with certain beings that have long secretly inhabited the kingdom.
It's all a very nice novel, and always readable, and full of characters you like and root for -- but at the same time it seems a bit inconsequential -- or perhaps the term is "easy". In a way I found this refreshing -- the people really are all trying to do their best, they are just often misguided -- and in all honesty that seems truer than the common evil/good divide. But that said there really isn't much tension in the novel -- or much risk. I enjoyed it, and I think most readers will. But it didn't stay with me.