Patricia A. McKillip: Solstice Wood (2006)

No stranger to the realms of myth and magic, World Fantasy Award-winning author Patricia A. McKillip presents her first contemporary fantasy in many years-a tale of the tangled lives mere mortals lead, when they turn their eyes from the beauty and mystery that lie just outside of the everyday…

Patricia A. McKillip is one of the most renowned fantasy writers and rightly so as she combines great stories with refined writing. Last year I’ve read her Winter Rose and was quite enchanted by its mysteriously poetic qualities. Winter Rose is a typical fantasy novel regarding the setting. It depicts a time long gone and a pre-industrialized society. When I found out that she had not only written a sequel but that she had set it  in modern times, something she normally doesn’t, I was very curious to read it. Solstice Wood takes place many decades, even centuries after Winter Rose and apart from the setting and some elements, I’d say the two books do not have a lot in common. The style is very different and you could say, they really are stand-alones with a few common traits.

Sylvia grows up with her grandmother. Her mother has died when she was still little and she doesn’t know who her father is. When she finds out that she is half fey, she flees from Lynn Hall and settles in a big city where she becomes a book shop owner. She never wants to return as there is one thing her grandmother hates and tries to keep at bay and that are fairies. When she gets a call informing her of the death of her grandfather she is very reluctant but eventually gives in and flies back home for the funeral. Her aunt and her cousin Tyler are there, as are her grandmothers’ brother and her grandmother Iris.

She feels like a stranger but at the same time she is happy she gets to see her friends again. She would never have left them if it hadn’t been for her secret an only now she becomes aware how much she missed them. Still Sylvia is really anxious and wants to fly back right after the funeral but strange things happen. It seems that the dark wood forces, guided by the queen of the fairies, are about to break loose. Her grandmother, together with a dozen other women, is part of a fiber guild. The magical quilt they are crocheting has the power to keep the two worlds well separated. When Tyler is suddenly replaced by a changeling and the women find out the web of their quilt is about to unravel and the worlds are merging, it’s about time, everyone gets active. For some of them that means entering the Otherworld. The big question is whether they will all survive and if they will, whether they will admit that some of them, not only Sylvia, are not just humans.

I liked Solstice Wood, it’s well written and the way McKillip describes how the worlds merge is interesting. I enjoyed the idea of the fiber guild. What worked very well too is that you can interpret the world of the fairies as anything which feels strange and unfamiliar. The book offers an interesting variation on the themes of prejudice and bias. The more the worlds touch, the more the people get to know the other side, the less it’s frightening. In the end it’s all a matter of being open.

I liked to read a contemporary fantasy novel by McKillip. It’s a lovely and quick read, no big suspense or anything, much more a family story with a fantasy touch.