Patricia A. McKillip,
In the Forests of Serre
(Ace, 2003)

As with her previous novels, Patricia A. McKillip weaves a delicate luminous tapestry that immerses her readers in her new book, In the Forests of Serre.

Prince Ronan, still mourning the loss of his wife and baby, returns from a war that failed to kill him. As he rides through the strange and magical forests of his country of Serre, he accidentally kills a white hen, the favorite of the witch Brume.

When he refuses to enter her house of bones in compensation, she curses him: after he leaves his father's castle at the end of the day, he will not return to it until he has found her again. Having nowhere else to go, he returns home anyway, only to find that in his absence his father, Ferus, has arranged a marriage for him with Sidonie, princess of nearby Dacia. Furthermore, she is due to arrive any day. Ronan is appalled at the thought of marrying again, but all thoughts are driven out of his mind when he spots a firebird in the forest and slips away to chase it.

Sidonie later encounters him in the forest without knowing who he is, then goes on to the castle where she finds that she is more or less a prisoner to Ferus and his moods. She is also not sure what to make of the wizard Gyre who accompanied her to Serre. However, back in Dacia, the elderly wizard Unciel and Euan Ash, the scribe he hired to transcribe his memoirs, are keeping an eye on the events so far away.

The narrative moves like a dream-state, slowly and regally, with vivid and majestic images through which Ronan, Sidonie and Gyre move, briefly connecting and parting again. Yet McKillip avoids taking her tale too seriously and there are light moments, some almost slapstick, that keep the story from over weighting itself.

The characters are remarkable: Sidonie is courageous enough to act in spite of her fears; Ronan's ascension from the grief that has mired him is authentic and moving; and Gyre's slippery nature catches the reader off guard. Unciel, the wizard who would rather be gardening, is especially well drawn, and Euan Ash proves to be a loyal, thoughtful friend to the wizard.

Like McKillip's last few novels, In the Forests of Serre is a small book with a marvelous cover by Kinuko Y. Craft. Not only is the tale a pleasure to read, but also the small book is a pleasure to hold and to behold. In the Forests of Serre is a lovely addition to a body of work known for its original, elegant storytelling.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 6 December 2003

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