fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Patrica McKillip The Book of Atrix WolfeThe 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 shape shift into a wolf during the winter to avoid human company. He seldom interferes in mortal affairs, but in his wanderings he comes across the kingdom of Pelucir, under siege by the conquering kingdom of Kardeth. Now the merciless winter holds both sides in a stalemate, and when Atrix fails in his parley with the Prince of Kardeth, the mage comes to a solution all his own. Drawing up magic from the carnage around him, he creates a being to cease the fighting on both sides; the haunting visage of an antlered Hunter.

But the consequences of his magical tampering have greater effects than even he is aware of. In the nearby woods dwells the mystical Queen of the Wood, who has watched the proceedings with her consort Ilyos and her daughter Sorrow. Now with Atrix’s sudden and violent surge of magic, the Queen’s beloved and her daughter are swept up into the mortal world, beyond her powers to retrieve them again.

Now, twenty years later a range of seemingly-unconnected incidents occur that bring the mystery to light once again; involving the missing Atrix Wolfe, the magician-prince Talis and the strange spellbook he finds, and a mute scullery maid named Saro who diligently scrubs cauldrons in the busy world of the palace kitchens. All three characters are intimately connected to each other, though none of them are aware of it, and are called into the service of the Queen of the Wood to find her daughter and rid the world of Atrix’s terrible mistake.

McKillip always integrates components of real legend and folktale; in this case it is the mythical figure of the Queen of the Wood and the Hunter of the Wild Hunt; archetypal figures that have no names but are recognizable wherever they appear in literature. I make mention of names, because they are another main theme of the story — there is a commentary running throughout the tale of the meaning, mysteries and purpose of names; and if the final line doesn’t make you smile then… well, let’s just say it will make you smile.

My first experience with McKillip (The Riddlemaster of Hed) left me absolutely baffled, but by this stage I was familiar with McKillip’s work and knew what to expect; a vague narrative that relies more on dreamy imagery and poetic descriptive passages than three-dimensional characters and clear plotlines. It may not sound very appealing to some, but give it a try. Like Shakespeare and fine wine, it gets better the more you try it.

The Book of Atrix Wolfe — (1995) Publisher: Twenty years ago, the powerful mage Atrix Wolfe unleashed an uncontrollable force that killed his beloved king. Now, the Queen of the Wood has offered him one last chance for redemption. She asks him to find her daughter, who vanished into the human world during the massacre he caused. No one has seen the princess — but deep in the kitchens of the Castle of Pelucir, there is a scullery maid who appeared out of nowhere one night long ago. She cannot speak and her eyes are full of sadness. But there are those who call her beautiful.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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