The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind, Moon-Flash, The Moon and the Face, The Sorceress and the Cygnet, The Cygnet and the Firebird, The House on Parchment Street, The Throme of the Erril of Sherril/The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Night Gift, Stepping from the Shadows, Fool's Run, The Changeling Sea, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Winter Rose, Song for the Basilisk, The Tower at Stony Wood, Ombria in Shadow, In the Forests of Serre, Alphabet of Thorn, Od Magic, Something Rich and Strange, Harrowing the Dragon
(I have the sequel to Winter Rose, but haven't read it yet.)
If you go shopping on the Advanced Book Exchange, some of these books are worth their weight in gold in First Editions. The question that springs to mind is, "Are they actually worth it?"
And, well, that's a difficult one to answer. Patricia McKillip continues to be popular, but I've felt that recent books have lost something. Several months ago, I read someone's comment saying that Patricia McKillip's books were like pretty wrapping paper on an empty box, and I've been thinking about whether I agree ever since.
Patricia McKillip's output has increased substantially in the past few years-- she's putting out about a book a year. They're still quite "pretty," with very artistic writing, beautiful imagery, and the language! But...
When I think about it, the last book that moved me was Song for the Basilisk. That means I haven't been impressed by the last five books. Why?
Patricia McKillip's books are filled with wondrous and mysterious things, but the characters themselves are usually not very memorable. What are their motivations? What are they trying to accomplish? Do they do anything except look mysterious, do mysterious things, and fall in love? The answers, in order are: I don't know, I don't know, and apparently no.
In reading the recent books, the language reaches out to enfold me and draw me into the story, then just lets me drop, leaving me cold. And, in thinking about it, the reason I'm not drawn in is that I'm not engaging with any character.
So, you may safely assume that I'm not going to recommend any of the most recent books.
There is one main theme that recurs, in different forms, in all of McKillip's novels-- things are not what they seem.
- "Evil" becomes neutral; "good" becomes not so uncomplicated as you might think. Things (or people) may first appear good or evil; as the book progresses, they are not precisely these things. In The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, this is very overtly represented by Rommalb and by Sybel herself. In the Riddle Master trilogy, Deth, the Shape-changers, and Morgon fall into this category. In The Sorceress and the Cygnet, the battle between the Cygnet, the Gold King, the Dancer, etc., changes dramatically in character near the end of the book. In The Changeling Sea, the sea itself changes from villain to neutral.
- "There are more things on heaven and earth..." The world itself is different in character from its original presentation. This can take the form of a discovery of a highly technological society in a primitive world, or the existence of aliens with alien needs in a universe where they are not perceived to exist. In Ombria in Shadow, the end of the book completely changes the perception of the relative importance of various characters in the construction of the world, and, in The Alphabet of Thorn, the meaning of time and history change. People have magic of unexpected sorts. I can't say much more about this theme without spoiling any books I discuss.
As a book progresses, layers are gradually "peeled back," revealing the underlying truths about characters and the world. McKillip always manages to pack a great deal of story into fairly short books-- impressive in the age of massive fantasy epics where nothing happens. Her worlds also generally avoid the fantasy cliché of Middle Ages + Magic, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you like in books.
The books are fundamentally allegories, however, and if you are seeking the concrete (find monster, slay it, save world, wed love interest), you will not find it in these books and you will probably not like them.
It's quite possible that I am less fond of recent McKillip books because I've learned what to expect-- I no longer feel that sense of wonder as each layer of the world is peeled back. I still enjoy McKillip's prose style, however, which is image-rich, evocative, yet spare.
The Book of Atrix Wolfe - I debated whether to put this book on the list or A Song For the Basilisk. This book tries to keep fewer secrets about the world and the characters, and I think it's the better for it. In my opinion, this is among the less allegorical-- more concrete-- works.
The Sorceress and the Cygnet - This book has one of the more dramatic changes in the nature of the world and characters at the end. I think the construction of the world, its gods, its constellations, and its people is among the most interesting McKillip has done.
The Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind - I wish you luck at pronouncing the characters' names in this book. (Please, someone, tell me how to say "Ghisteslwchlom." I beg you.) These are the earliest of McKillip's novels, and probably mostly intended for young adult readers. I've read them many times and enjoy them (there's something about Raederle being the "second most beautiful woman in the three portions of An" which fascinates me). I don't know how these books are perceived by people who read them in the correct order-- I read them first in fifth or sixth grade, and the library books did not make it clear that they were part of a series, so I started with the last book, then read the second book, then the first. Oops.
The Changeling Sea - This, again, is one of the less allegorical and more concrete books. It's directed at young adult readers. I'm at a loss about what to say on this book; I'm recommending it because I love the way it ends.
(My favorite McKillip novel, by the way, is Fool's Run. It's strange and highly image-based; I'd probably hesitate to recommend it to others. You may find it under "Books that Grabbed Me.")