Review: Alphabet of Thorn
Well-loved Sci-Fi/Fantasy author Patricia A. McKillip released this book in 2005. Alphabet of Thorn is a story about the magic of words, about obsession, and about love.
An orphan has been raised by the librarians of a great castle. At sixteen, through her job as translator, the magic of a book tangles her life with that of the young queen and others of the realm. This history written in a language of thorns unveils secrets that will change everything.
The story is reminiscent of Arthurian tales, and Le Guin, with a touch of Harry Potter.
Soon after I began reading, I felt a fondness for the author. Her language is beautiful, but I found the strange word order and her use of pronouns confusing. As this is the first book of McKillip’s I’ve read, I’m not sure if she wrote this way on purpose or not. The story does, after all, center on a brambly language.
I like McKillip’s patterns of thought, and the timing of her plot elements. Plenty of well-paced hints lit the way to the outcome. There are gems among her phrases, and interesting metaphors such as the enormity of night with its eye at the window, spying on comfort and fragile peace.
My favorite line is, “. . .even in the long, tumultuous history of Raine, the rulers had never had to go to war with their librarians.”
The final chapter or two make me feel that the author was already busy in her mind with her next book. The structure is there, but primary characters have oddly melted away and the writing has lost its flow. There is a beautiful resolution, but it was a tricky one that needed a little more care to make someone’s transition believable.
I've blogged about my process in creating this review. https://habyrd.com/ Baby Sees Its Shadow For The First Time, Again.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award nominee 2005.
One of the most spectacular fantasists of our time, Patricia A. McKillip creates fairy tale worlds of wonder and magic. Now, she opens the page on a time and place where an orphan girl is haunted by thorns... a reluctant queen rules between sea and sky... and epics never end...
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 tha 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 led and the life she was born to lead...
Patricia Anne McKillip (born 1948) is an American author, distinguished by lyrical, delicate prose and careful attention to detail and characterization. She is a winner of the World Fantasy Award (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, 1975, Ombria in Shadow, 2003) and Mythopoeic Award (Ombria in Shadow). Most of her recent novels have cover paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft. She is married to a poet David Lunde and lives in Oregon.