I always enjoy Patricia McKillip's books, but the problem with them is that they usually slide right out of my brain once I'm finished reading them. Thus, since I finished this one about two months ago, I only remember vague bits and pieces of it.
I remember that I loved, loved Deth and Astrin, Unfortunately, Astrin only appears for about twenty pages of the book and vanishes from the story quite frequently, but I still adore them both.
I wasn't a fan of Morgon, the main character - he was repetitive and whiny. His entire storyline revolves around him having the "hero who is destined to save the world" formula, and hating it. He doesn't want to save the world. He wants to stay at home and raise farm animals and bake pies and rule his little little island kingdom in peace.
Unfortunately, this means that every other character in the book ends up urging him to actually get a life and do something to entertain the reader. So most other characters in the book had to give him the motivational speech at least once, which led to a lot of repetitive scenes where they're encouraging him and explaining to him that the world will end if he doesn't get a move-on, and he sits there sulking and shaking his head in denial.
Good grief, that scene got old fast.
But I did enjoy the book, honestly. It has McKillip's usual kind of ghostly half-awake fairy tale writing style, which means I sometimes don't know what's going on until after the scene is long past, but her writing is pretty so I guess I can let it slide. I just think that maybe this particular book would have benefited from a little more . . . grounded style of writing, maybe?
One thing that did bother me was the way McKillip seemed to have favorite words, like she would go through a twenty-page phase where she used the word "melted" every paragraph, for instance. And every time Deth appeared, she would re-describe the way he sits there being quiet and inscrutable. Every time.
I love Deth to pieces, I think he's a predictable but beautifully represented fairy tale character. But seriously, I don't want to read over and over and over again about how profound his silence is, or how mysterious his demeanor is, or how unreadable his expression is. I got it the first time, I didn't need to have it pointed out to me fifty more times, you know?
Also, the similies. (I don't know if I'm spelling that correctly.) Everything is like something else. A tree is like a snowdrift, and a dog is like a bear, and a hat is like a lampshade. I don't know if McKillip always wrote like this or if I just overlooked it before, but good grief, I got so tired of everything being compared to something else. Can't a tall man ever just look like a man? Does he always have to be compared to a marble pillar or an ancient tree or a mountain? Please? If you tell me once that he's really tall, I'll understand and remember - I don't need to have images of architecture and landscaping slapped on top of him for reference.
I had other little problems, too. For instance, partway through the book the main character learns to shapeshift into a magic white deer-type creature. I was informed that after something like three months of practice, he could "hold the shape for a long time", but I got the feeling that "a long time" meant, say, twelve hours or a day, maybe? Since he was only training for a few months, "a long time" certainly couldn't have meant two or three months in itself, right?
But he immediately turns into a deer and goes running off into the mountains, where he lives like a deer for months on end, apparently without ever changing back to human form. It was pretty jarring.
My last problem is one that's pretty hard to explain to anyone who hasn't read the book.....
Okay. There's this scene where Morgon, the main character, gets lost inside a mountain. Pitch-black tunnels, he can't see where he's going, there're cold ponds or lakes here and there. Just think of Riddles in the Dark and you'll know what I mean.
So this little kid who knows the pathways comes to rescue Morgon and lead him out, but when they're near the exit these really powerful wizardly shape-shifter guys attack them. One of them hits the little kid and the kid falls - it doesn't say whether the wound looked fatal or not - and Morgon stands there quaking for a minute before he pulls out his magic sword and cuts down all the monsters.
THEN, INSTEAD OF CHECKING ON THE LITTLE BOY TO SEE IF HE'S OKAY, MORGON WALKS OVER TO THE NEAREST ROCK WALL AND LEANS AGAINST IT TO RECOVER HIS BREATH.
I mean really - the kid saved his life by getting him out of those tunnels and then took an awful injury because there were monsters chasing Morgon - plus, you know, he's a child, a little boy - and after Morgon gets rid of the beasties, he just stands there to rest for a minute rather than run over and see if the kid is even still alive.
I really hated him right then, and I honestly think that's the main reason why I haven't picked up the sequel to this book yet; I don't care about Morgon or his whining, and even for Deth and Astrin I don't have a lot of inclination to spend any more time in Morgon's head.
So yeah, I think it's a good book. Yes, I enjoyed reading it. Yes, I would probably recommend it.....but I'm not in a hurry to read the next one.