The Sorceress and the Cygnet by Patricia A. McKillip
Review Summary: A long-time fan of McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy, I think my expectations were set a little high for this novel.
I’ve long had an interest in reading The Sorceress and the Cygnet, after reading an article where McKillip uses excerpts from the novel to discuss how she mixes the language of magic in with the language of the ordinary in her writing, in an effort to ground it, to help set a world where the magical occurs next to the mundane. Overall, however, I found the novel to be underwhelming.
From a character perspective, I think the novel is a little light – the characters have a potential for richness and depth that never quite materializes – motivations are unclear or sparsely discussed, and this is all the more disappointing given the obsessive nature and drives of some of the characters in the novel. Additionally, one of the central figures – the sorceress – hardly gets any time or discussion at all until the end, so that one feels a little shorted throughout the book.
The plot is likewise a little thin, redeemed from standard fare only by an unclear twist at the end. Normally I would be okay with a straight-forward plot in a character-driven peice, but as mentioned above, the novel falls short in that respect as well.
Thematically, McKillip does manage to setup a non-standard fantasy world, with half-explained gods/constellations incarnate and a mix of studied and innate magics, different from anything else I’ve read, and the plot twist on the end gives an interesting take on how mythological stories can be reinterpreted, misinterpreted, or simply have a different meaning entirely.
A long-time fan of McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy, I think my expectations were set a little high for this novel.