Next Author: K.M. McKinley
Previous Author: Dennis L. McKiernan

Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip(1948- )
Patricia McKillip is well-known for her beautiful, poetic writing style. She has won numerous awards for her stand-alone novels and short stories. Her fantasy epic RiddleMaster won the 1980 World Fantasy Award. Patricia McKillip lives in Oregon with her husband, poet David Lunde.

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol and ... Read More

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld: A supremely entertaining book

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

As one of Patricia McKillip's earlier works, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld provides an interesting comparison to her first publication Riddle-Master, a dense trilogy that made the most of her trademark poetic-prose. On the other hand, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a relatively slim volume with a clear concise style and a straightforward story. Since then, McKillip has managed to successfully merge the aspects of both works in her later works, but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by no means an example of a new writer still trying to find her voice. Far from it: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has a fascinating premise, intriguing character interactions and a rewarding conclusion.

Sybel is the solitary wizard of Eld Mountain, living in a great white house with a ... Read More

RIDDLE-MASTER: Belongs in a genre all its own


Your Eyes are Full of the Sun…

My entirely subjective opinion of “epic fantasy” is that it is tedious, predictable and just plain boring most of the time. The same line-up of stock characters go on the same quest to save a land that is permanently stuck in the Middle-Ages. On the way they meet the same supporting characters (gruff dwarf, regal elf, mysterious wizard), collect the same treasures, get in the same tavern brawls, are betrayed by the same turncoats, and join in the same battles against the same old villains. They drink mugs of ale, eat nothing but stew, and ride horses that never seem to need food or rest. The story usually stretches on and on over several very long books, and sometimes the author actually dies before they get the chance to complete their saga.

I realize that this is a huge... Read More

The Changeling Sea: A sweet, simple fairytale about the sea

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

I'm a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's work, but it's taken me a while to get my hands on The Changeling Sea, and once read I found that it was a rather unique addition to her body of work. One of her earliest books (published back in 1988), and possibly her only work that was written specifically with a young audience in mind, The Changeling Sea is a slender novel with an extremely simple plot.

After her father's death at sea, Peri (short for Periwinkle) and her mother become estranged. Peri takes up residence at the abandoned shack on the seashore, spending her days working at the inn and her nights staring at the sea. Finally frustrated into action, Peri calls upon what little magic she has and casts several hexes into the sea. Her actions are to have far-reaching consequences, for this charm calls into her life two pr... Read More

The CYGNET duology: Early Patricia McKillip

CYGNET by Patricia McKillip

She walks the path of time toward this house...

Two Patricia McKillip books in a single volume, what could be better?

As two of her earliest works, the CYGNET duology (composed of The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird) make for more challenging reads than her later offerings. McKillip is renowned for her complex writing techniques. It's obvious to those who are familiar with her distinctive poetic-prose that she's still getting the hang of it here, and sometimes the density of it threatens to overwhelm her story. At the risk of making them sound like a chore, McKillip's earliest books — this duology and THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED trilogy in particular — are not easy to read. Every word demands your utmost attention just to understand wh... Read More

The Book of Atrix Wolfe: Mysterious and beautiful

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia McKillip

I would have brought you every bird in the wood...

Patricia McKillip once again takes a seemingly simple plot and shapes into something mysterious and beautiful through the use of her poetic, luminous language. It must be said that McKillip's writing style is entirely unique, to the point where it is slightly off-putting to anyone reading it for the first time. Because she incomparable to anyone else I can think of, the best I can do to explain it is to say that her books are like Shakespeare in the fact that it seems indecipherable when you first begin to read, but after getting used to the technique, it gradually begins to make more and more sense till you can finally appreciate its beauty and the skill that went into creating it.

The powerful mage Atrix Wolfe is known throughout the lands as the White Wolf, due to his tendency to sha... Read More

Winter Rose: A dreamy and mysterious tale of family secrets

Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip

The first time I read Patricia McKillip, I didn’t get very far. The book was the Riddlemaster of Hed, and I was completely unprepared for her complex use of language. But there must have been something in her style that intrigued me, because I tracked down Winter Rose not long afterwards, and since then have been a big fan of all her work. Out of all Patricia McKillip’s books (at least the ones I’ve read) Winter Rose is perhaps the most opaque. McKillip’s language has always been eloquent and atmospheric, often obscuring both plot and characterization, but in this case the plot itself is also rather vague and ambiguous. Based on the ballad of Tam Lin, this is a dreamy and mysterious tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the allure of faerie.

At the risk of making this book... Read More

Song for the Basilisk: Music can heal and destroy

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip

One of Patricia McKillip's earlier novels, Song for the Basilisk has all the hallmarks of her fantasy fiction: unique prose, ambiguous characters, fairytale settings, court intrigue, and a love of musical instruments. Here especially McKillip calls on her appreciation for viols, flutes, harps and picochets (the one-stringed instrument on the cover), in which music plays a crucial part in the narrative.

As a child, Rook is pulled from the ashes of a fireplace and smuggled away to the isle of Luly where the bards live. Knowing he's escaped certain death, he buries his memories and loses himself among the music and desolation of his island home. But many years later, with a son of his own, he finds that he can no longer ignore his lingering nightmares. Renamed Caladrius (after a bird whose song heralds death), he secretly accepts his identity as a s... Read More

The Tower at Stony Wood: Not her best work

The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip is one of the most unique fantasy writers out there, blending echoes of ancient stories in with intricate and elegant poetic-prose that may surprise those new to her writing style. I must admit that her work is an acquired taste, it took me a few tries to fully understand and appreciate her work; to grasp the story underneath the many-layered poetic language that she invokes.

The Tower at Stony Wood is no exception to this style, so if you are a first-time reader to McKillip, and find this book incomprehensible; don't give up — try another of her books and you'll most likely become attuned to her way of writing and become as big a fan as I am. In this case, McKillip borrows two ideas from Celtic folklore: the legend of the selkies, half-seal, half-fish women that sometimes abandon the seas to live on the earth, and the famous image of "The L... Read More

Ombria in Shadow: Dreamy and intricate tale

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Like all of Patricia McKillip's books, Ombria in Shadow is a dreamy, intricate tale, made memorable by her distinctive poetic prose. Symbols, circumstances and meanings can be interpreted on any number of deeper levels, making her books ones to be savored and re-read. If you are a lover of eloquent poetry and subtle imagery, then let Ombria in Shadow be the first of McKillip's range of stories to let you drift away on language that must have been meticulously chosen in order to create a sense of faery and dreaming.

The royal prince of Ombria is dead, leaving a child-heir, a grieving mistress and a confused bastard nephew at the mercy of Domina Pearl ('The Black Pearl'), the regent of the city, who is seemingly immortal and has her own dark plans for the ruling of the oldest city in the world. Casting the young mistress Lyd... Read More

The FIREBIRDS Anthologies: Excellent short fiction for young adults

The FIREBIRDS anthologies edited by Sharyn November

Firebirds is the first of the three FIREBIRD anthologies edited by Sharyn November. Some people don’t like short stories, especially in anthologies where you are reading several different authors. I, however, almost always have a volume of short stories on my bedside table. Even if I manage to get no other reading done during a hectic day, it is a way for me to finish a whole story in 15-20 minutes. In an age where many authors seem incapable of writing anything other than multi-novel epics, it is a treasure to be able to enjoy a whole tale in one sitting.

Many collections of fantasy short stories are a compilation of hit or miss attempts to match a loosely defined theme for the volume. The Firebird Anthologies far exceed the industry standard. They are edited by Shar... Read More

In the Forests of Serre: Intricate imagination

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip once more takes us into her intricate and ornate imagination with In the Forests of Serre, which has the feeling of an old fairytale that McKillip has discovered in some old book and fleshed-out for us in her unique style of writing. Combining several components from various myths and legends, (predominantly the Firebird and a witch who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Russian Baba Yaga), In the Forests of Serre is a book that McKillip's fans will find to their liking.

In the Forests of Serre are many creatures of enchantment, both beautiful and deadly, predominantly the Mother of All Witches: Brume, who lives in a moving house of bones. It is one of her white chickens that Prince Ronan of Serre kills on his way home from the wars and so is cursed. For Ronan however, the threat of bad fortune is meaning... Read More

Alphabet of Thorn: My favourite

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip

Once again Patricia McKillip crafts a wonderful story, and although I must admit that I haven't read all of her novels, I think it's safe to say that Alphabet of Thorn is one of her best works. Out of her many books I have read, this one is definitely my favourite. Her beautiful language, her startling imagery, her intricate plot, her mind-twisting ideas... all come together in this stunning story.

In a beautiful cliff-top palace by the sea (so high that one cannot hear the ocean from the top) a coronation is taking place for the young and inexperienced Queen Tessera. Delegates and dignitaries from the Twelve Crowns (the term given to the divided countries that rule under the Queen's supervision) have come to bestow their blessing — and their judgments — on the new Queen. Tessera is in a precarious situation, as any numb... Read More

Harrowing the Dragon: A story collection by Patricia McKillip

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip is the author of several wonderful books (my favourites being Alphabet of Thorn and Winter Rose) and is one of the few fantasists in the publishing world that is original. Although her stories may contain typical fantasy elements (dragons, heroes, kingdoms, quests, good versus evil, etc) they are written in such beautiful poetic-prose that the stories transcend the clichés they stem from; reading more as luminous fairytales than hum-drum fantasy. Although the prose is beautiful, it is also an acquired taste. When I was first introduced to her work, I found it rather difficult to adjust to a story that was often hidden under such dense, rich language. Of course, it's worth it in the end, but for those just starting out on McKillip, perhaps this anthology of short stories is a good starting place.

A... Read More

Od Magic: A mild book

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

The city of Numis is home to the famous Od School of Magic, founded years ago by the legendary giantess Od. She’s apparently immortal, but appears only occasionally, and therefore the school lies in the hands of the king Galin and the wizard-headmaster Valoren, who demand strict obedience from its students. Any unorthodox magic is outlawed, any student that step outside the boundaries set for them are expelled. This is especially true of any student who goes wandering in the Twilight Quarter of the city: a neighborhood that comes alive only after dark, a place of wild and uncontrollable magic that the king is determined to stifle.

This is particularly true when two new faces arrive in Kelior. One in a simple gardener named Brenden Vetch, sent by Od herself to the school in order to take up a position as a new gardener. His magical skill with plants is astonishing, as well as threatening to those ... Read More

Solstice Wood: A good place to start with McKillip

Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip

Solstice Wood is a sequel (of sorts) to Patricia McKillip's earlier novel Winter Rose. The latter book is a dark and intricate fairytale based on the ballad of Tam Lin, in which a young girl attempts to free her love from the designs of a faerie queen. Though still set in the mountains around Lynn Hall, Solstice Wood takes place hundreds of years later, as contemporary men and women deal with the repercussions of Rois Melior's dealings with the fey-folk.

Sylvia Lynn has escaped her family and heritage to live in the city, but a phone call from her grandmother, informing her of her grandfather's death, calls her back home again. There she finds herself getting pulled ever tighter into the tangled web of secrets, family problems, and ancient woods that surround her ancient home. As a direct descendant of ... Read More

The Bell at Sealey Head: Perfect introduction to McKillip

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip’s latest novel takes us to the little fishing village of Sealey Head; tiny and inconsequential, and dominated by four influential families: the Cauleys (father and son innkeepers), the Blairs (a large family of merchants), the Sproules (rich farmers who have gained some degree of nobility) and the Aislinns (living in the crumbling manor house). Actually, there’s only one Aislinn now: old Lady Eglantyne, who lies dreaming in her bedchamber, waited on by a host of servants. The extensive cast of characters have interconnecting friendships, rivalries and romances with one another, but everyone in the seaport is linked by one specific peculiarity of their hometown: each night as the sun goes down, a ghostly bell tolls over the coastline.

There is various speculation over what and where exactly the bell is, but no one has been able to satisfactorily answer any questions... Read More

The Bards of Bone Plain: Celebrates the power of music, language, and love

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

In This Land, the Bards Have Forgotten Their Magic…

Patricia McKillip does it again! Unique among fantasy writers for her dreamy prose, her ability to meld complex characterization with original fairytale plots, and her ability to slip in a clever twist or two before the story’s end, McKillip returns to form after the slightly lackluster The Bell at Sealey Head (great build-up, terrible climax) with The Bards of Bone Plain.

For his final school essay, Phelan Cle decides to write about Bone Plain, the mysterious plain-lands where his eccentric father Jonah spends most of his days excavating for lost riches. Dotted with standing stones and the subject of many poems and ballads in the bardic tradition, Bone Plain seems an easy topic with which Phelan can complete his ... Read More

Wonders of the Invisible World: Intoxicatingly beautiful fragments

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I love Patricia McKillip’s writing, and was excited to hear she had a short story collection coming out. I really enjoy reading short stories because I think it’s a good measure of what a writer can do – distill down the essential elements of story to a concentrated core of who they are as a writer.

Upon opening the collection I was slightly disappointed to realize that these were all stories that had been previously published, many of which I had read before. However, it was an interesting experience for me to rediscover some of these stories for a second time, and to compare the effect of the stories I had read before to the ones I was reading for the first time.

I thought the first story, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was the least effective story in the collection. While I understand why it was placed first — it gives the title ... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of ancient-feeling magic in the modern day.

This isn’t a book in which you’re going to find in-depth detai... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: A treasure box of stories

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of seven shorter fantasy works ― five short stories and two novellas ― and a non-fictional essay by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patricia McKillip. Several of these works are reprints of stories originally published elsewhere; “Mer,” “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Alien” are the only ones original to this collection, but since I had never seen any of these stories elsewhere, they were all doorways to new and enchanting worlds for me. This collection, where faeries and other fantastical creatures and beings intersect with commonplace people, sometimes rudely intruding in our world and sometimes luring us into theirs, tends more toward urban fantasy than McKillip’s typical high fantasy work, but it’s not your typi... Read More

The Green Man: Read it slowly

The Green Man edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

In fairy tales, whenever someone journeys into the forest, you just know something strange is about to occur and that the protagonist’s life is going to be changed forever. The same is true of the stories and poems featured in The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. With this collection, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling kicked off a series of young adult anthologies, each devoted to a particular theme. Here, the theme is wild nature, and most of the stories feature teenage characters who encounter the wilderness and undergo a coming-of-age experience there.

Of course, I have my favorites. Delia Sherman contributes a tale of the Faery Queen of Central Park, and the insecure girl who faces her in a battle of wits. Read More

Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don't like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.

For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Dragon by Read More

The Secret History of Fantasy: Stories that redefine the genre

The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G. Hartwell.

In the case of fantasy, this type of wri... Read More

Other books by Patricia A. McKillip

fantasy book reviews Patricia A McKillip The House on Parchment Street, The Throme of the Erril of SherrillThe Throme of the Erril of Sherrill — (1973) Ages 9-12. Publisher: A knight goes in quest of the non-existent throme of the Erril of Sherill since the king will not allow his daughter to marry without it.

review Patricia McKillip Stepping from the ShadowsStepping from the Shadows — (1982) Publisher: ONCE UPON A TIME there was a girl named Frances, an “army brat,” who lived in a world of make believe where cactuses were a giant’s green fingers, the hills were full of unicorns, and the great antlered Stagman hid in the churchyard shadows. And then Frances grew up. But the Stagman wouldn’t go away… Now her fantasies follow her from the classroom to the streets, from singles clubs to golden beaches; and everywhere he waits. The barbaric mangod more sensual, more dangerous than any mortal lover. Silent as a dream, the Stagman is coming for her. Stepping from the shadows. And all he demands is her sanity.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMoon-Flash — (1985) Publisher: Kyreol’s small world begins at the Face, a high rock cliff, and ends at Fourteen Falls, a series of rapids. Each year, her people celebrate Moon-Flash-a spark of light that seems to come from and go into the moon, a symbol of life and joy. When a mysterious stranger arrives, Kyreol wants to know more about him, as well as the Moon-Flash, and soon she and her childhood friend Terje leave their home to look for answers. Those answers will pluck Kyreol from Riverworld and transform her life forever-by fast-forwarding her into a future she can barely comprehend. This omnibus edition combines the acclaimed Patricia A. McKillip’s two science-fiction novels, Moon-Flash and The Moon and the Face-at the request of Firebird readers.

book review Patricia McKillip Somethign Rich and StrangeSomething Rich and Strange: A Tale of Brian Froud’s Faerielands — (1984) Winner of the 1995 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Publisher: They have lived among us for centuries — distant, separate, just out of sight. They fill our myths, our legends, and the stories we tell our children in the dark of night. They come from the air, from water, from earth, and from fire. What are these creatures that enjoin out imagination? Faeries. Something Rich and Strange creates a faerie story that’s not to be missed: Megan is an artist who draws seascapes. Jonah owns a shop devoted to treasures from the deep. Their lives, so strongly touched by the ocean, become forever intertwined when enchanting people of the sea lure them further into the underwater world — and away from each other.

Fool's Run

Fool’s Run — (1987) School Library Journal: Master of fantasy McKillip has turned her considerable talents to science fiction, fashioning a riveting tale of romance and mystery. The beautiful golden-faced musician known as “The Queen of Hearts” hides her past and her identity from her mentor, the Magician, and from her lover, Aaron Fisher, while her notorious twin sister Terra remains imprisoned in the Dark Ring of the Underworld, an orbiting prison colony, for mass murder. A rock concert on the Dark Ring provides the means for Terra to escape; the ensuing pursuit forces each character to confront the reality of her vision: not madness but a very real alien form struggling to be born somewhere in the universe. The strong emphasis on music and the rock group that plays it will appeal to YA readers as will the language that amazes and delights at every turn.