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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

cover of Alphabet of Thorn

The more I read Patricia McKillip, the more I think that she knows just where to end her stories. She doesn't tie up all the loose ends, she leaves you wanting more of the world & characters she's created. The main conflict is usually resolved (or begun to be resolved), but the other pieces are left more open-ended. At the end of Alphabet of Thorn, the Queen is wondering how she can possibly explain the recent, extraordinary events to her people in language they will understand. Her advisor, the Mage Vevay, says, "Just begin at the beginning and proceed whichever way you can into hope." I wonder if McKillip operates that way for her own work?

As might be expected from the title, much of this book is about language and writing; the main character is a foundling who has been trained as a translator, and she is a gifted one. Nepenthe finds a magical book written in thorny letters, and it ensorcels her so she spends every waking moment working to translate it. Similarly, as a reader, I found it easy to be drawn into this book of Nepenthe's world. This thorny alphabet also conveys a powerful message about the power of writing to communicate and connect people.

There are plenty of interesting characters and history in Nepenthe's world; I would have been pleased to read more about many of them. The forest and the floating Wizard school are delightful; the student of magic, Bourne, is just beginning to discover the extent of his powers; the mage Vevay has had a long lifetime, doubtless full of adventure; the young queen Tessera, who is trying to discover how to rule without being her father; the ancient first King of Raine, who awakes to warn Tessera of danger, and who turns out to be a warrior queen; and of course the fascinating legend and history of Axis & Kane.

Ultimately, the mystery behind the magic of the alphabet written in thorns is compelling, and does not disappoint. It is fascinating to see Nepenthe's story connect with the legends she is translating, and the resolution, while perfectly believable, is not the one you might expect.

Title:Alphabet of Thorn
Author:Patricia McKillip
Date published:2004
Number of pages:291
Notes: This book was an early birthday present.


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