by Patricia A. McKillip
Cover Artist: Gary Blythe
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 044101366X
Date: 07 February, 2006 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Not so fast.
In Solstice Wood, Patricia McKillip's new contemporary fantasy, the world of the Lynn family includes the mundane and the mystical side by side. Sylvia has prescient dreams, Tyler encounters a strange girl who calls herself Undine, and Sylvia's childhood best friend Dorian lets slip something about a mysterious Fiber Guild. All in all, there are portents swirling thick in this remote place... and Sylvia will prove to be at the center of these events.
The Fiber Guild proves to be a gathering of village women led by Iris. Their self-elected duty is binding the magic that runs wild through the hills and woods. They try to use their power responsibly, but the magic is struggling against its restraint and threatens to burst free. Sylvia is introduced to the work of the Guild and realizes that her grandmother intends her to take over her duties at some point--but before that can happen, she must undertake a quest to save the life of a loved one from a powerful creature who refuses to be confined any longer. It seems that an important piece of magic has failed and an innocent has been led into danger.
If Sylvia fails, the Guild's work of a century will be undone completely and magic will run riot. The sum of choices both good and bad is coming to a head... and after so long, Sylvia has some important choices of her own to make.
The story is told from multiple points of view, as various characters take turns filling chapters. Sylvia is the major narrator, but Tyler, Iris, family friend Owen and even a sort of evil twin to Tyler all take the spotlight. This narrative style gives the work a rare quality, as McKillip deftly conjures up distinct voices and personalities for her narrators. It goes beyond ordinary characterization, because she has the chance to explore these people in depth; we come to know them extremely well and share their joys and sorrows more deeply because of that.
Although best known for her otherworldly fantasies, McKillip proves she is equally at home with the modern world. Sylvia, startled, considers the absurdity of fending off a fairy creature with a cell phone (which doesn't work), while Tyler introduces his astronomy-entranced uncle to the joys of modern video games. Her ability to weave enchantment into the ordinary day-to-day lives of her characters is admirable, taking her into new realms of the imagination while using the craft she's honed up to now.
Although McKillip's fans will be well rewarded, Solstice Wood would appeal just as greatly to fans of other contemporary fantasy authors such as Nina Kiriki Hoffman or Holly Black. The work marks a new path for McKillip as an author, one that she follows as deftly as Sylvia enters the wood...but with considerably less to fear.