"This is not at all what I expected the unexpected to be like." I don't like everything Patricia McKillip has ever written. I was straight out bored by The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and didn't care much for her Moon Flash or Cygnet duologies. But I've loved pretty much everything else she's written. I was taken aback recently to encounter someone who didn't care for The Riddlemaster of Hed.
Most of my McKillip reading has been of her novels, with only one or two short stories in the occasional anthology. I wasn't sure what to expect from a story collection, especially one described as straying from her usual fantasy settings to the real world. I'm happy to say that McKillip is just as effective in short form, and almost as capable in urban fantasy as in more romantic settings.
Romance is what McKillip is all about - not in the Mary Stewart sense of stories that are really about relationships, but in her unabashedly romantic style, full of soft and subtle strokes that blur hard edges and leave a warm, comforting feeling. I know nothing about McKillip as a person, but there's something disarmingly nice about her books.
As noted, the stories here do veer away from McKillip's usual stamping grounds, dealing with somewhat harder topics. Not all of the stories work, but most of them do, and if you like her novels, you'll like this collection. Some of the interesting stories:
- Wonders of the Invisible World - "I am the angel sent to Cotton Mather." Not what I expected at all, but a good story.
- The Kelpie - A painter and model pursued by two rivals. Charlotte Bronte in the art world, with water sprites.
- Oak Hill - A runaway searching for magic. Urban fantasy that really works.
- Knight of the Well - Denizens of the water world cause havoc in Luminum. This is a long story that could easily have been a book. It works McKillip's usual magic, but with a relatively weak ending.
- Byndley - A wizard sheds his burden. This is an object lesson in McKillip's skill. Literally all that happens is that a wizard returns something he took, and yet it's a complete, effective, and satisfying story.
- Undine - A water sprite seeks a human mate, with unexpected consequences. An unusually grim story for McKillip.
- Xmas Cruise - A couple on vacation learn how humans devastate their environment. While I completely agree with McKillip's point, this is a story that is far too message-driven to be successful as fiction, though it does make a clear point about damage to the oceans.
- A Gift to be Simple - The musings of a member of a shrinking cult. While interesting, this is a story that treads to close to the real world for McKillip's dreamy style to be fully effective.
- What Inspires Me - What you know? McKillip lives in Oregon!
There are some commonalities in these stories. There are a surprising number of water sprites, and some of the endings lean towards the trite. That doesn't mean they can't be effective, though. An excellent addition for McKillip fans, and a good starting point for new readers.