Patricia A. McKillip,
Winter Rose
(Ace, 1996)

World Fantasy Award winner Patricia A. McKillip has created another stunning masterpiece -- I can't offer enough praise for this novel without gushing. And I hate gushing. But Winter Rose is one of those novels that stays with you long after you put it down. The way light slants through a window or the sound wind makes as it rustles the leaves of a tree will bring bits and pieces of McKillip's prose back to you with sudden clarity, and you'll find yourself turning page after page all over again.

For some villagers, the story of the tragedy at Lynn Hall was more vivid than scenes from their own childhoods. Rumors told that Nial Lynn was murdered by his own son, and his dying words cursed the future generations of his family. For other villagers, the curse was nothing more than gossip spun and mended by the hearth fires. For Rois Melior, a free-spirited young woman, the rumors were a way to find out more about Corbet Lynn, Nial Lynn's grandson, who simply appeared in the forest one day to rebuild the family estate.

Rois is fascinated with the Lynn family curse; each encounter with Corbet leaves her breathless and unsure of exactly who or what he is. Corbet's appearance has an unsettling effect on Rois and her sister Lauren, who is happily betrothed. As the season turns and winter grips the land with an icy fist, Rois must deal with questions about herself, her dead mother, and her sister's infatuation with Corbet. More importantly, Rois must discover where Corbet came from.

Winter Rose is a novel in which nothing is as it seems, whether it be love, beauty or life. McKillip expertly uses the shape-shifting theme from Tam Lin to highlight Rois's struggle with Corbet and her own past. Each of the characters is beautifully rendered, while the pacing of the novel is incredible. McKillip adds layer upon layer and skillfully brings the novel to a fulfilling ending without sacrificing power or poignancy.

However, it is McKillip's use of language which makes this novel such a brilliant success. The author sketches her settings with vivid, detailed images -- each description adds to the magical mood she creates. She has a poet's ear for language -- this book is a joy to read aloud. The language itself creates a startling strangeness in its nuances of light and dark, love and pain, laughter and sorrow.

Winter Rose is a compelling novel -- an intricate, haunting tale of unrequited love. McKillip definitely deserves the reputation she has received as one of the best writers of fantasy fiction.

[ by Audrey Clark ]

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