Kingfisher, Patricia A. McKillip
Received to review via Netgalley
The formatting of this was less than ideal on my Kindle, since I think it’s a proofing copy and thus there were numbers all through the document, and bizarre sections with no paragraph breaks, and all sorts of fun things like that. I did read some of it on my computer, which was better in one way, but not the most comfortable way to read either. In a way, I wish I hadn’t read this now, despite my eagerness for it — there’s a thread of McKillip’s usual enchantment and strangeness here, but I’m pretty sure that some of the odd moments were just caused by the formatting. Not really experienced as the author intended, I think.
I don’t know to what extent I’m typical of the audience for this book. To me, the Arthurian influence was immediately apparent — the Fisher King, some of the names (Vivienne?), the relationship between Sir Leith and Queen Ginevra, the king Arden. The strange ceremony, the issue of someone outside the ritual needing to ask, the grail-like object. Pierce’s story is almost like that of Percival, and yet not always, not quite. At least, not a version I know. It felt all askew, because I know the Arthurian versions so well, and particularly because I really don’t like the Percival story, in general. I don’t like it when he’s Welsh and ignorant, and yet at the same time I don’t like his Welsh background being ignored either. The grail story just loses me entirely, in general, even when it’s closer to the Welsh sources than to Chrétien’s.
On the other hand, I love McKillip’s work a lot. She does magic and enchantment so well, and writes so beautifully. That is certainly in evidence here as much as ever. She makes something interesting and different of the old stories, of the grail-seeking. I felt like the Severluna/Calluna stuff never quite worked itself out fully — it seemed a fairly typical god/goddess dichotomy/conflict, complete with god-obsessed young men making nuisances of themselves to older/feminine magics. I wanted more, something different. Stranger? Stranger is a good word for what McKillip usually manages.
The Stillwater character and what he did was interesting — very classically mythological, and yet fresh too. It took me some time to fit that into the plot, because it’s not an intrinsic part of the Arthurian story — perhaps one reason why someone less familiar with the legends might enjoy this more. I always find myself playing puzzle pieces with Arthurian stories, or even ones that’re just inspired by Arthuriana.
I don’t know how to assess it, at the end of all this. For holding me rapt despite misgivings, I think I’m going to go ahead and give it four stars, “really liked it”. In an ambivalent, intrigued sort of way.