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Thursday, October 12, 2006

cover of Solstice Wood

This book is a departure from most of McKillip's novels in a couple of ways: it is set in the present-day, and is a kind of sequel to the haunting Winter Rose, although it happens several generations later. Sylvia Lynn is summoned home by her grandmother for her grandfather's funeral. She has purposely avoided home and lived in the city to avoid her home and the peculiar power of the forest near Lynn Hall because of her own connection to the Otherness of the wood.

Lynn Hall and its wood are a place of passageways, full of points of connection with the Otherworld of the wood-folk, the fairies. Sylvia knows that she herself is half fay (her mother never married and never said who the father was), but has never admitted it-- particularly to her grandmother. After the funeral, Sylvia learns that her Gram Iris leads the Fiber Guild - a group of women who get together to sew, but also to close and protect the passageways between worlds, binding things with their sewing needles and crochet hooks. (The Fiber Guild reminded me of McKillip's short story, "The Witches of Junket," which features another forceful grandmother and a group of unlikely modern witches who defeat an ancient evil with a fishing rod and crochet hooks.)

Some of Iris' bindings have come apart-- enough to open up a few passageways and allow for some connection with the world of the fairies (even though the two worlds are already more connected than she realizes, as with Sylvia). Events and people start to tangle and unravel-- Sylvia and her younger cousin Tyler both cross over into the other world (one by force, the other by choice), and eventually Iris and Sylvia come face to face with the Queen of the Wood, who asks the chance to "give them a different tale"-- to change the story they have been told about the wood folk. Iris and her forbears had been taught that the fairies were heartless, evil creatures who were dangerous and incapable of love, and must discover that, like humans, not all fairies are heartless and cruel. At the end, Iris comes to the wonderful recognition that her husband Liam loved the wood because he was not afraid of it-- while, because she was so busy trying to protecting them from it and keep it contained, she could never enjoy its splendor and beauty.

The book is told from many different perspectives, always in first person, shifting from chapter to chapter. This is an interesting device; sometimes I felt like the different characters' voices weren't distinct enough (they all have that overtone of McKillip's beautiful, lyrical language), and sometimes it felt a bit jarring when I had to wait for one part of the story to go follow a different character. But this also allows for some wonderful moments; one chapter is told from the perspective of a changeling pretending to be human, and his thoughts as he learns and experiences human language are delightful. At another point, when Tyler has been taken to the Otherworld he is caught up in memories of his dead father and thinks of his new step-father as a changeling (this image rang so true-- it was perfect within the context of the character and the whole world of the book).

Title:Solstice Wood
Author:Patricia A. McKillip
Date published:2006
Number of pages:278


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