Of all Patricia McKillip’s writings, perhaps this one is the most accessible. The short stories seem to have a different tone to her longer works — something less poetic, more matter of fact. It’s a great collection: pretty much all of the stories are strong, and each one contains a whole world — and each world is so very different from the next. There are some which are more like her novels, and oddly they seem to be ones which people who’re fans of her novels like less, based on the review. Maybe it’s because a novel may digress, may take time simply being lovely: poetry and short stories have to go right to the heart of it, whatever that heart is. Something that feels a bit too vague and artsy can come up totally inconclusive as a short story: that’s how I felt about just a couple of these, particularly ‘Xmas Cruise’. On the other hand, the twist and uncertainty in ‘Hunter’s Moon’ works really well — I’m just not sure that I’m meant to feel so vague about ‘Xmas Cruise’. It made me feel like I was missing something.
Most of the time, though, the stories are pretty strong. I wasn’t sure about some of them, and then they revealed themselves — the Arthurian twist in ‘Out of the Woods’ made me smile, and the way it contrasts the two worlds by laying them side by side, never saying anything explicitly about one or the other world, how they fit together. I think my favourite story was ‘Knight of the Well’; McKillip builds up a whole fantasy world, acquaints you wish it, turns it upside down and settles it down again in the space of what’s still a pretty short story.
Overall, a great collection; McKillip’s way with words remains a strength. The contemporary feel of a couple of these didn’t sit that well with me, partly because I was expecting something more olde-worlde, something to match the mythical look of the cover. Other people might find it the best ‘in’ to McKillip’s work they’ve ever had, though.