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Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Kingfisher (2016)

by Patricia A. McKillip

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Once upon a time, a sorceress decided to take her son away from the king's court and the boy's father and to hide with him, not telling him anything about the court or his father. Until three knights show up and impress our boy - and he is off to the court of the king.

If that did not make you realize that you are in a retelling of the Arthurian legend, the name of our hero (Pierce Oliver), the king (Arden), his queen and other main characters may still tip you off. Or maybe the inn called Kingfisher. Or the quest that sends all the knights of the realms to look for an old object of power, something that can fed a god and never stopped doing it and now may look like a pot or some other vessel.

I like the occasional retelling of the old myths and this one is one of the most elegant ones I had read for a while. The world that McKillip builds is a mix between a high fantasy one and ours - we have a king and knights and tournaments - but they also ride cars and motorcycles and have cell phones (when a god or a forest does not decide to disable them for a while). We have magic and wyverns (and other mythical beasts) but not dragons and basilisks (at least not until a sorceress falls in love or gets angered - then all the bets on those are off). Every time when McKillip reveals another part of the story, a new oddity is revealed - an old ritual here, food made of air there, the queen's lover over there or an old god in a shrine somewhere.

The story itself holds little surprises - Pierce goes south to Severluna to the court to find his father and brother and on the way there he passes by the Kingfisher Inn in Chimera Bay, meets a woman he falls in love with, finds a knife (well... let's call it finding it) and eats a wonderful meal (and sees a ritual that seems to be older than the world). And Chimera Bay is a weird place - between the old Merle and the man that everyone hates, it clearly is the place where the story will finish at the end. But not yet - because there is still a court to be visited, family to be met, a tournament to be won (or not) and a new world to be revealed - when the kings created the kingdom by cobbling together the small realms, a magical one fell as well. And the descendants of that kingdom are still around - and trying to get it back - by magic and tricks, by turning a son against a father.

It is a modern world - anyone can be a knight - male or female (even though we know that back, when the realm was created, that was not the case - or so the ravens say anyway). It is also a crazy world - partially because of the structure of the story (being a myth retelling, the characters remain shallow and just sketched so when they need to be logical, it does not work very well), partially because McKillip just mentions events that another writer will take hundred of pages for.

And the whole novel is held together by its language - flowery where it makes sense, sparse when it does not. It is well balanced and a pleasure to read. And despite the underdeveloped characters, it is a very readable novel. I wish they were more developed, more complete - but in a legend, it is the way.

If someone had never heard of Percival or Arthur, the novel can still work - the Arthuriana adds a layer on top of the story and reveals connections earlier than McKillip does (not by much) but at the end all the connections are there and the novel stands on its own. And that is not that easy to do. ( )
1 vote AnnieMod | Apr 14, 2016 |
I was excited about Kingfisher, because it’s been several years since McKillip’s last novel and I’ve read all of her stories that I can get my hands on.

Kingfisher is a loose Arthurian retelling, drawing upon stories about Sir Perceval and stories about the Fisher King. It’s set in a secondary fantasy world where knights ride electric motorbikes and own cell phones - where women can be knights and no one considers that remarkable - where dragons would exist if they weren’t extinct.

There’s a Holy Gail-type quest that weaves the different threads together, yet in itself remains kind of peripheral. The things the main characters seek are ultimately more important and more personal: Pierce leaves the remote community where he has grown up, seeking the city and the father he’s never met; Carrie, who works at the Kingfisher Inn, seeks answers about its history and the silences of those connected to it; Daimon, the king’s youngest son, learns the truth about his mother and is sent on a quest that could result in him severing ties with his father and half-siblings.

Sometimes McKillip’s stories are too ambiguous and dream-like for my liking, but this one wasn’t. I think the presence of old, familiar narratives, and of contemporary technology and cooking helped to ground it. Those things made it easier to speculate about directions the story might take, and to find things I could identify with the characters over.

I also liked the way Kingfisher critiques the damage questing knights can do when they are careless and prioritise their quest over other people.

I really liked Kingfisher. And McKillip’s prose is lovely, as always.

“Look for us,” he heard. “If you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden’s court.”
He straightened again, blinking at the thought. They were smiling at him again, welcoming him into their world, making him, for a moment that melted his heart, one of them. The moment passed; he was himself again, in all his awkwardness, his isolation, his inexperience: a young, tangle-haired man wearing a filthy apron at the end of a dock at the edge of the world, chasing after crabs instead of wyverns.
( )
  Herenya | Apr 13, 2016 |
Another elegantly twisty fantasy novel from Patricia McKillip, set in the same world as her other novels. The insertion of modern technologies into her created world took some getting used to, but it worked. Always worth reading.
  LibraryGirl11 | Apr 11, 2016 |
Is there anything more magical than a well-cooked meal? Several characters meander around with a lot of unanswered questions in their lives and it all sort of comes together in the end...though there are still a lot of loose ends. Perhaps too tightly edited - I would have liked a bit more description and character development, but overall a satisfying read. ( )
  dbsovereign | Feb 15, 2016 |
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Pierce Oliver was pulling crab rings out of the water off the end of the dock at Desolation Point when he saw the knights.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425271765, Hardcover)

In the new fantasy from the award-winning author of the Riddle-Master Trilogy, a young man comes of age amid family secrets and revelations, and transformative magic.
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...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 17 Dec 2015 21:35:33 -0500)

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