No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, October 07, 2016

2016/53: Kingfisher -- Patricia A. McKillip

Rituals with letters, rituals with cauldrons, a bloody gaff, a missing knife, everyone in a time warp, looking back at the past, wishing for the good old days, hinting of portents, speaking in riddles, knowing things but never saying, never explaining — [loc. 760]

Pierce Oliver is sorting crabs on the pier, for his mother's restaurant Haricot. Along come three knights in a black limo. Their shadows reveal their ancestry, though they seem surprised that he can see those shadows. They're somewhat bemused, too, about where it is they've ended up. Cape Mistbegotten, says Pierce. If it's not on the map it's because my mother hid it.

This encounter, and the knights' invitation -- "Look for us if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden's court" -- prompts Pierce to go home and announce to his mother, the sorceress Heloise, that he is leaving home to seek his fortune. Heloise is not happy, but tells him enough about his father (also a knight at King Arden's court) to whet his appetite. Pierce charges his phone, gets in his car and drives south.

On the way to Severluna he stays the night at the Kingfisher Inn, whose owner is crippled and estranged from his wife, but who hosts the famous Friday Nite All-U-Can-Eat Fish Fry. There is something very odd about the Kingfisher Inn, its staff and its clientele. And something odd about the kitchen knife that Pierce feels compelled to steal as he leaves.

Pan out to Severluna, a cosmopolitan city where the younger royals are frequently in the headlines, and the king's bastard son is enamoured of a mysterious young woman who may have a hidden agenda. Skim sideways to the quest announced by King Arden (which pretty much boils down to 'go and look for something special -- you'll know it when you see it') and the ensuing adventures of the motorcycle-riding Knights of the Rising God.

Kingfisher has a large cast and a complex plot -- or, rather, a complex layering of plots plural, from Pierce's search for his father to the knights' quest for a bowl which may belong to their god or to a goddess; from the legendary Friday Nite Fish Fry to Stillwater's legendary restaurant where exquisite morsels leave the customers as hungry as before; from Dame Scotia Malory, intellectual and warrior, to Carrie Teague, exasperated daughter of the rather shamanic Merle; from plush limos to ancient shrines ...

It's easy to tease out threads of Arthurian and Greek myth, but the blend of Americana and arcane, all laced with McKillip's rich prose (not quite a lush as in some of her work, but though the lyricism may be sparser it still glows) and some images that reminded me of her earlier works, especially the Riddlemaster books. I liked the ways in which the characters accepted and worked around the occasional incursions of the magical, the mythic and / or the antique into their lives: the ways in which the material and spiritual worlds interwove. At times the novel feels overfull, with too many strands and characters and levels: at others, I'm delighted by that same complexity. I don't think I've enjoyed one of McKillip's novels this much since Fool's Run.

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