Book Review: Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip

KingfisherBy Awnali Mills

Every now and then, I do get to read an adult book. (I jest, I read them a lot.)  But I rarely review them for the blog, because, you know, children’s librarian.  But children’s librarians DO read adult books—as do the parents of children.  And, parents and other adults ask me for recommendations all the time.  So, I’ve decided to throw in some adult book reviews from time to time, and I just finished reading Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip.

Pierce Oliver has been raised by his sorceress mother in a little fishing backwater.  When he meets up with knights of the realm, his world is turned upside down.  He learns that his father is still living, and that he has a brother.  He sets off to find them and ends up in the middle of a three way race for an ancient artifact that could shift the power of the world.  And if you think this a Middle Ages fantasy, you’d be wrong.  There are cars, cell phones, and even laser weapons—but this isn’t science fiction, either.

I grew up reading Ms. McKillip, and her books were among the first I purchased with my own hard-earned money, and have shifted with me through every adult move.  I’m delighted when a new one shows up, and read it as quickly as I can get my hands on it.  That said, I DO think that Ms. McKillip might be an acquired taste, especially if you like your prose straightforward.  McKillip’s work is full of poetry, symbolism, and metaphor.  I tried to find a few-sentence example for you, but they all seem too strange, taken out of context, or inadequately convey the lyricism of her work.  The best I can explain it is that her stories are like poetry—you can’t read them like straight fiction and expect to appreciate them.  But they aren’t poetry, not like Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming is poetry.

Now, I feel that I’ve totally muddled trying to explain McKillip’s writing.  To paraphrase a quote by her, “Words, she decided, were inadequate at best, impossible at worst. They meant too many things. Or they meant nothing at all.”
And, I’ll finish with another quote that might better explain her work:

“At its best, fantasy rewards the reader with a sense of wonder about what lies within the heart of the commonplace world. The greatest tales are told over and over, in many ways, through centuries. Fantasy changes with the changing times, and yet it is still the oldest kind of tale in the world, for it began once upon a time, and we haven’t heard the end of it yet.”

Ms. McKillip’s works are full of wonder in the midst of the commonplace, and I can never get enough of reading them.  If you enjoy fantasy and poetry, please pick up Kingfisher.

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