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Alphabet Of Thorn (2005)

Alphabet of Thorn (2005)
4.05 of 5 Votes: 5
0441012434 (ISBN13: 9780441012435)
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Alphabet Of Thorn (2005)
Alphabet Of Thorn (2005)

About book: [9/10]How do you put together a book of thorns, a three thousand years old emperor, an orphaned transcriptor, a passage through time, and swaths of ancient poetry into simple language? The answer is to let Patricia McKillip do it, with her deft hand at infusing each phrase with beauty, mystery and meaning. With every new book of her that I start, I get a sense of instant recognition, of a stylistic consistency that permeates from one story to another, regardless of the fact that she writes mostly standalone books and invents new worlds, new myhtologies, new magics and fresh characters for each. After reading so many 5 or 7 or 12 book fantasy series, it feels like a waste for an author to limit herself to one volume epics. I prefer to think of Patricia McKillip as a master craftsman who prefers to spend countless hours adding minute details to a tapestry or a painted vase or a sculpted chair until the object transcends its utilitarian design and becomes a thing of beauty, worthy of a museum. Or in a shorter explanation, I see her as an author who goes for quality over quantity.Does a book of only 300 pages deserve to be considered epic? For Alphabet of Thorn my answer is yes. The story weaves together the individual struggles of Tessera, the young queen of Raine, of Bourne, an apprentice magician and of Nepenthe, a translator of ancient books, with the larger history of the world, going back thousands of years, to the founders of the greatest empire of Raine: Axis, The Emperor of Night, and Kane, the powerful magician that is always at his side, always hiding behind a mask. I love the way McKillip develops these characters, as well as several secondary ones, keeping things back, inserting silences and secrets, leaving them room to grow, finding once a humorous tone, next a heavy melancholy over things of the past. I can even forgive her for using one of the most abused clichees in fantasy : that of the orphan with a mysterious past and incredible magic powers.Talking of magic, it plays a major role in the development of the story, from a floating school for wizards hidden in a sentient forest, to a sleeping ghost rumoured to come awake in the event of grave peril for the country, to abilities like mind reading, invisibility, teleportation, and even to some old fashioned fireballs and ligtning bolts, the magical forces are present everywhere, even if they remain mysterious and unpredictable and governed more by the heart than by the intellect. I've picked one passage to showcase both the beautiful prose of Mckillip, and the magic imbued nature of her worldbuilding: Now the wood in early morning was utterly silent. She walked carefully through damp leaves, around tangles of bramble and vine, trying not to disturb the stillness. She could not see the sky, only green and shadow woven thickly above her, yelding not a scrap of blue. She breathed soundlessly. So did the wood around her, she felt; it seemed a live thing, alert and watching her, trees trailing whisps of morning mist, their faces hidden, their thoughts seeping into the air like scent. It was, she thought, like being surrounded by unspoken words. The theme of language, communication, and the search for meaning/relevance is repeted through the text as Nepenthe tries to unravel the mystery of the book of thorns. It appears also in a scene with Tessera and an old courtier, one that I will choose as an ending and a conclusion to the book: - He taught me the difference between everything and nothing. - Which is? - Words.

There is a lot to this book that I've come to understand as very characteristic of McKillip: thoughtful, considered characters; a semblance, though not full description, of history as a backdrop for the story; mystical realms where magic is fully integrated into the world though also exist side-by-side and, at times, bound to, the purely non-magical. And, most of all, I appreciated Alphabet of Thorn for what I love about McKillip's writing and books the most: her both lack of attempt to describe things for which words are not enough, that exist in a world where words have no meaning. Indeed this is what, in my mind, is the true goal of fantasy (and possibly, in a way, all fiction as well).But Alphabet of Thorn also does what I wish McKillip would move away from, something that has characterized, it seems, most to all of the books she has written in the last ten or so years. There are too many voices, too many main characters, leaving the reader (or me, at least) to either choose a favorite and dread seeing the others or to feel disconnected from them all. Or, at times, both. I liked Nepenthe, though I thought Bourne was undeveloped. I enjoyed some aspects of Tessera but I disliked Vevay. Also, McKillip just plain doesn't get into her worlds enough, which is surprising to write, as her worlds are so full and so lively. But I really felt with Alphabet of Thorn how much further she could push her worlds and, through that, how much she could further her characters and her plots. In short, I get the feeling that there's simply so much more story surrounding the characters and their world that McKillip just doesn't get to, either because she's so concerned with writing other voices (an interesting tactic, but not necessary or even good in every book) or because all of her books come to only about 300 pages. And (although I won't spoil it) I really didn't care for her ending in Alphabet of Thorn. Some characters suddenly change, some give up things that they've sought for the entire plot, and with no explanation. I was left very disappointed at the end of this book, which, I think, is why I gave it only three stars.But, still, I love McKillip's writing. She's gotten at something that is the purpose (again, I think) of all fantasy writing: to describe the indescribable, to journey in a world completely beyond us and our own world, to experience in a story, with developed characters, that which underlies our world and which informs, in the end, all our inspiration. She's there, but I just don't think developing it enough when she gets out of it. Though that's saying a lot. I've never met McKillip and I have no conception of her compositional practices, but she really does seem to me to be on the cusp of some beautiful things. I just wish they were more in her stories and characters and not, in my opinion, resigned to a few amazing passages and side-stories.
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Another beautifully written story by one of my favorite writers.Obsession. It rules the world and the people who live in it. Sometimes it can even control time itself. If one has enough magic for it. Some people are obssessed with knowledge. Others with power, and there are others that will do anything in the name of love. Or, for what they call love: "She had finally eased the painful hunger in her heart for Axis."(Kane, on page 163)Just like a chessboard game played through time, different pieces/characters will find that some destinies just can't be avoidable, and that the past is closer that one would expect. And that sometimes, "it" walks hand in hand with long forgotten ghosts. Can the Queen of this story be saved, or is she already doomed?In a beautifully crafted scenario, Mckillip interwines elements of epic fantasie with those of a sci-fi book to create a story rich as ever in words and images.I don't think that i will ever be able to dislike a Patricia Mckillip book. However, i will have to say that so far, this is the story with which, i least connected. And that is mainly because of the characters, most of which, for me, just didn't feel "real" enough.
Kari Chapman
This was a hard book to rate. There was some very good parts to the book, but most of it didn't really work for me. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters. We'd met different characters almost every chapter and none of them drew me in. Additionally there wasn't a strong plot line - instead each chapter felt almost disconnected from the others. This gave the book a very dreamy feel, but also left me not sure what was going on with characters that I didn't care about.However, we then got our first Axis and Kane chapter. That intrigued me enough to keep me reading a bit further. Gradually the plot line started coming out and the chapters began to make a bit more sense. I never did grow to care for any of the characters though, except for Kane. She interested me.I wish that the book had been just about Kane and had left out all the other characters. That would have been a very interesting book. There's a lot of growth and conflict in Kane's life that just gets glossed over.The ending of the book was very frustrating. It felt rushed and didn't really fit the feel of any of the characters up to that point. I didn't care for it. It also seemed like one character in particular took a very sudden turn in direction for very little reason. Their actions do make sense, but in the book it just didn't feel honest to the character.
Kristine (fezabel)
I haven't read many of Patricia McKillip's books. I read the Riddlemaster series long ago as a child. I picked this one up out of sheer boredom from the library. I know it's a children's book, but some younger books are still appealing to adults. This one is not.The characters Nepenthe and Bourne are okay, if barely two-dimensional. The subplot of Axis & Kane is poorly handled and confusing. And the young Queen of Raine is barely tolerable. I didn't like the writing style, with its flowing wordy passages that are hard to follow. The key elements of the plot are confusing and unexplained. They seem to pop up out of nowhere and leave the reader waiting for the rest of the explanation. Overall, the book has a very rushed feel to it. I think it would have been better if the author had taken more time with it and expanded the stories. Storylines would have followed a bit more logically and the characters would have been more likable. It's another case of a great premise spoiled by bad writing.
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