In the Forests of Serre: Intricate imagination

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Patricia McKillip In the Forests of SerreIn the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip once more takes us into her intricate and ornate imagination with In the Forests of Serre, which has the feeling of an old fairytale that McKillip has discovered in some old book and fleshed-out for us in her unique style of writing. Combining several components from various myths and legends, (predominantly the Firebird and a witch who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Russian Baba Yaga), In the Forests of Serre is a book that McKillip’s fans will find to their liking.

In the Forests of Serre are many creatures of enchantment, both beautiful and deadly, predominantly the Mother of All Witches: Brume, who lives in a moving house of bones. It is one of her white chickens that Prince Ronan of Serre kills on his way home from the wars and so is cursed. For Ronan however, the threat of bad fortune is meaningless — he’s already lost his wife and infant son to death: what could possibly be worse?

As it turns out, an arranged marriage could be worse. In his absence, his tyrannical father has organised a marriage to Princess Sidonie of Dacia, attracted to the small kingdom’s promise of magic and power. Though Sidonie is a reluctant bride, she realises the threat posed toward her home — if King Ferus cannot have Dacia through marriage, he will take it by force. The court wizard Unciel is sympathetic to her plight, and has arranged his young acquaintance Gyre to accompany the princess to her new home in Serre. But Gyre has his own agenda concerning the magic in Serre, and the hidden past between himself and Unciel has not yet reached its conclusion…

And then Ronan is captivated by the sight of the Firebird, which reveals to him its secret, beautiful face. Without a second thought, Ronan escapes into the forests, which is only the first of many comings and goings into the Forests of Serre, which are traversed by almost all of our characters throughout the course of the novel. Each time something new is discovered, something is lost, something precious switches hands or is left behind. By the time the story ends each of the characters (even the far away Unciel and his new scribe Euan Ash, who is working to piece together his history) have all their secrets revealed.

The characters are not especially vivid, especially when compared to others that appear in McKillip’s previous books, but their dilemmas and mysteries are interesting — from Ronan’s earth-shattering grief, to Sidonie’s entrapment between two countries, to Gyre and Unciel’s shadowed past together.

The forest itself is gorgeously written in McKillip’s distinctive use of language and imagery, and Kinuko Y. Craft’s beautiful cover illustration once more embodies the atmosphere of the book. Filled with meaning and symbolism, this is a treat for any fantasy lover, especially those who are already fans of McKillip’s work. Although at times it can be a bit needlessly complicated (I kept loosing track of who was in the forest and why, since there are so many coming and goings), and perhaps not the best McKillip novel out there, it was still an intriguing and fascinating read.

In the Forests of Serre — (2003) Publisher: In the tales of World Fantasy Award-winning author Patricia McKillip, nothing is ever as it seems. A mirror is never just a mirror; a forest is never just a forest. Here, it is a place where a witch can hide in her house of bones and a prince can bargain with his heart… where good and evil entwine and wear each others’ faces… and where a bird with feathers of fire can quench the fiercest longing…

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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