Solstice Wood: A good place to start with McKillip

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Solstice Wood Patricia McKillipSolstice Wood by Patricia McKillip

Solstice Wood is a sequel (of sorts) to Patricia McKillip‘s earlier novel Winter Rose. The latter book is a dark and intricate fairytale based on the ballad of Tam Lin, in which a young girl attempts to free her love from the designs of a faerie queen. Though still set in the mountains around Lynn Hall, Solstice Wood takes place hundreds of years later, as contemporary men and women deal with the repercussions of Rois Melior’s dealings with the fey-folk.

Sylvia Lynn has escaped her family and heritage to live in the city, but a phone call from her grandmother, informing her of her grandfather’s death, calls her back home again. There she finds herself getting pulled ever tighter into the tangled web of secrets, family problems, and ancient woods that surround her ancient home. As a direct descendant of Rois Melior, Sylvia is expected to embrace her past and her role as the heir of Lynn Hall, and she’s introduced for the first time into the sewing circle known as Fiber Circle, a group of women who do much, much more than stitch patchwork quilts.

Like all of McKillip’s novels, this is not a “fantasy” of the kind that involves magic swords, dark lords, or conflict between good and evil; yet it’s also quite different from the fairytale nature of its predecessor. This is a story about a community who live on the verge of another world, sometimes intermingling with it, but always vaguely aware of its presence. The problems that arise are of a personal nature: a missing parent, a forbidden lover, a misunderstood duty. The confrontation is not a gung-ho battle, but something more subtle, more meaningful.

That’s not to say that there isn’t magic at work. Here you’ll find changelings, undines, witches, and doorways to other words, all presented in McKillip’s transcendent language. Each chapter flits between several characters, each one shedding new light on the proceedings and points of view — getting inside the changeling’s head as it negotiates the strangeness of the human world is a particular treat! The use of first person narrative (rare for McKillip) means that her prose isn’t quite as poetically dense as some of her other books, but there is beauty and humor here, and each character has a distinct voice that adds to the sense that the final resolution of the book is a joint effort.

One doesn’t have to have read Winter Rose in order to grasp what’s going on; despite name-drops and the general theme, the two stories are completely different. In fact, Solstice Wood would be a good place to start a new reader onto McKillip’s work as the prose is not so intimidating as some of her earlier novels, such as the RIDDLE-MASTER trilogy. At the same time, it’s a good chance for McKillip to amend some of the misconstructions of Winter Rose: there, the realm of Faerie was a dark and dangerous place, now she has a chance to explore its more benevolent side, particularly in the portrayal of the faerie queen. Previously she was cold and malevolent, now there’s a chance to see her softer, summery side, and to realize that there’s perhaps more to some of her more dubious actions than what appears.

Solstice Wood is a short book, but it’s no less magical because of its length. Reading Solstice Wood is like enjoying a many-flavored ice-cream on a hot summer’s day.

Solstice Wood — (2006) Publisher: No stranger to the realms of myth and magic, World Fantasy Award winning author Patricia A. McKillip presents her first contemporary fantasy in years. Solstice Wood is a tale of the tangled lives we mere mortals lead, when we turn our eyes from the beauty and mystery that lie just outside of the everyday. When her beloved grandfather dies, bookstore owner Sylvia Lynn knows she must finally return to her childhood home in upstate New York and face the grandmother who raised her and the woods which so beguiled — and frightened — her. But it’s not until she meets the Fiber Guild — a group of local women who meet to knit, embroider, and sew — that Sylvia learns why her grandmother watches her so. A primitive power exists in the forest, a force the Fiber Guild seeks to bind in its stitches and weavings. And Sylvia is no stranger to the woods.


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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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