This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
From Tor.com & authored by Alyx Dellamonica
Pierce Oliver lives in a world that fuses our high-tech present day with the top-down political structure of a high fantasy medieval kingdom. It’s the kind of place where limousine-riding kings preside over jousts, where the court magicians argue over the academic citations and feminist interpretations of their ancient texts, and where the bastard princes are doing well if they manage to stay out of the tabloids. The country’s biggest ongoing problem is keeping its surplus of troublesome knights from taking it into their heads to overthrow the government.
When Pierce is a young man this hardly matters, because he lives in a small town far removed from the capital, a backwater whose existence is known to but a few. His home is in fact concealed by magic, an enchantment wielded by Pierce’s somewhat clingy mother, Heloise, a retired witch living incognito as a slow foods restaurateur. One day three knights stumble through town by accident, and by the time they’ve moved on, Pierce has decided to strike out on his own, seeking information on the father he never knew and–perhaps as importantly–cutting the apron strings that have bound him so tightly to his mother’s chosen refuge.
Packing up his car and charging his cell phone, Pierce heads down the road and almost immediately stumbles into–rather surprisingly–another restaurant, this one in a dilapidated hotel called the Kingfisher, a place that has fallen on hard times. There he encounters Carrie, a hard-working chef who also dreams of escaping her particular Nowheresville of a community. Pierce partakes of a peculiarly ritualistic fish fry there, before spending the night in one of their rooms. On his way out the door, he gives in to an irresistible not-quite-whim to filch a cooking knife from the place.
The theft, of course, is less a failure of moral fiber than a magical imperative, and by the time Pierce makes it to the capital, the effects of his minor act of banditry are reverberating throughout the land. The King has decided to declare a nationwide quest for… well, definitely for something. A grail? A relic? A fountain of youth? Whatever the Object in question is, his upstart knights will surely know it when they see it. In the meantime, if their motoring forth and scouring the kingdom keeps them from getting up to revolutionary scale trouble, so much the better.
The problem with this scheme is it isn’t entirely a PR scam. The quest Object is real enough, and the mere idea of seeking it sets off a feud between two major religions, a fight that breaks down more or less on gender lines: there’s a cult with masculine, metal-dominated values and a male god, and a watery, priestess-led faith centered in the ladies’ birthing chamber. Both sides are absolutely, positively sure that the quest’s Object belongs to their patron deity. And for at least some of the men and women on the hunt, this ambiguity is awesome, simply because it means they have a license to stampede around the whole countryside, kicking over lesser shrines, sifting through their relics, and beating on anyone who might object.
Carrie and Pierce have other problems too, in the form of a third restaurant owner, a slippery figure called Stillwater who is almost certainly in the know about whatever it is that has blighted the Kingfisher Inn. Now he has his sights set on Carrie herself, and is tempting her with job offers she definitely ought to refuse.
Publishers Blurb & Me
Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, unexpectedly, strangers pass through town on the way to the legendary capital city. “Look for us,” they tell Pierce, “if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden’s court.”
Lured by a future far away from the bleak northern coast, Pierce makes his choice. Heloise, bereft and furious, tells her son the truth: about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen, and Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.
As Pierce journeys to Severluna, his path twists and turns through other lives and mysteries: an inn where ancient rites are celebrated, though no one will speak of them; a legendary local chef whose delicacies leave diners slowly withering from hunger; his mysterious wife, who steals Pierce’s heart; a young woman whose need to escape is even greater than Pierce’s; and finally, in Severluna, King Arden’s youngest son, who is urged by strange and lovely forces to sacrifice his father’s kingdom.
Things are changing in that kingdom. Oldmagic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to its former glory—or destroy it.
In the end, Stillwater is recaptured by the women of Ravenshold, Prince Damion brings peace between Ravenshold and Wyvernshold, the magic is brought back in balance to the Kingfisher and the Holy Grail is revealed to be a magic cooking pot used at the Kingfisher.
The reason this still only gets 4.5stars instead of 5 is because of the cover. I’m sorry, but Kinuko Craft covers are the physical embodiment of the stories that McKillip tells. This bland, no-nothing cover is a blot. Now, that is the fault of the publishers, so I don’t blame McKillip one iota but it still plays a part. Penguin, and their imprint Ace, should be heartily ashamed of themselves. In fact, I would gladly volunteer to help them commit seppuku for this disastrous, face shaming act they committed against this great book.
Now, there are some differences from her previous books. This takes place in “modern” times even while magic is in existence. There is also a much larger cast of characters. There are also several concurrent storylines instead of just the one or two. These various differences, while not bad, definitely contributed towards this feeling like a highly embroidered neckerchief instead of a wall scroll with one central picture. Smaller in scope but more “things” going on to keep one occupied.
I was thinking this was the last McKillip I had on my re-read journey and was pretty sad about that. It was coloring this whole read until about half-way through I realized I still had a collection of short stories to go through entitled Harrowing the Dragon. Then the sun came out, the birds began chirping and cherries fell directly into my mouth, already pitted. Life was wonderful again 😀