My pick this week is Patricia McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn. McKillip is the author of haunting, beautiful fantasies such as The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (winner of the World Fantasy Award), Od Magic, Ombria in Shadow and The Riddlemaster of Hed, not to mention The Bell at Sealey Head, which I showcased here. Many of these tales are or seem to be reworked and re-imagined fairy tales. They speak with the magic of nature, of humankind, of disturbing and odd and amazing things.
If you’re a fan of fantasy, you MUST pick up McKillip. I can’t say enough good things about her work. There are some books I’ve preferred over others, but her mastery over words and worlds fantastical is seriously wonderful. If you’re NOT usually a fan of fantasy, pick up McKillip anyway, and read it as literary fiction. The prose is gorgeous in its own right, so you’ll be well-rewarded regardless, and just might find yourself as hooked as I am.
Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. Now sixteen, she knows little of the outside world—except for the documents that traders and travelers bring her to interpret.
Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation. Written in a language of thorns, it speaks to Nepenthe's soul—and becomes her secret obsession. And, as the words escape the brambles and reveal themselves, Nepenthe finds her destiny entwined with that of the young queen's. Sooner than she thinks, she will have to choose between the life she has led and the life she was born to lead...
Alphabet of Thorn is a favorite for many reasons. First off, living in a library sounds like my dream existence. Notice I didn’t say working. I mean living in this fantastical library deep in the bowels of a castle at the edge of a sea... Second, the character has an affinity for languages. I read this book for the first time in college, when I was discovering my own passion for unraveling the meanings of unknown words. It was a perfect fictional accompaniment to my own real life revelations. Third, there’s mystery and magic and the weight of duty (and perhaps the world?) at stake in the novel. And the heroines are themselves: strong, young, silly and wise, but never weak. And finally, the imagery of thorns, of princesses and crossed destinies, of magic and fate beyond control of mere mortals – that is so very reminiscent of my favorite fairy tales. It may be time for another re-read, now that I think about it…
If you want to own Alphabet of Thorn, I’m giving away one (1) copy here on my blog!
Leave a comment on this post answering the question, “What do you (or do you not) like about fairy tales?”
Please include your email address or another method of contact. Giveaway is open internationally - I'll order straight from The Book Depository. Comments will close on November 28 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.