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Song For The Basilisk (1999)

Song for the Basilisk (1999)
3.97 of 5 Votes: 1
0441006787 (ISBN13: 9780441006786)
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Song For The Basilisk (1999)
Song For The Basilisk (1999)

About book: Review below.The book description that I get for this book goes to a different McKillip novel. Amazon's description:"As a child, Rook had been taken in by the bards of Luly, and raised as one of their own. Of his past he knew nothing--except faint memories of fire and death that he'd do anything to forget. But nightmares, and a new threat to the island that had become his own, would not let him escape the dreaded fate of his true family. Haunted by the music of the bards, he left the only home he knew to wander the land of the power-hungry basilisk who had destroyed his family. And perhaps, finally, to find a future in the fulfillment of his forgotten destiny."And of course, with McKillip, nothing is as it seems (including book descriptions - the wrong AND the right ones) and imagery is everything. Her books are a bit like falling unexpectedly into a beautiful pool - you have a moment of disorientation and confusion before everything rights itself and you have an idea of what's going on. That disorientation can turn some off at the beginning, but I urge readers to wait it out and to take their time with it. Her books are so beautiful and full of brilliant, jewel-like images that they're nearly poetical in nature. Probably writing like hers set me up to enjoy Gene Wolfe's "read between the lines" style. A note: Her books are those you can accurately judge the writing (not quite the story) by the covers, for once, as the covers are as beautiful and intricately detailed as her use of language.While I love the characters and stories, I most love the unexpected wit. You don't expect it in such writing, and so when it comes along, it's all the more precious. Some of the comments surrounding one character's use of the Picochet, a 1 string violin style instrument, are quietly hilarious. Another characters awful attempts to sing were so funny - it helped lighten an otherwise darkly themed story of loss, tragedy and revenge.I was curious about the Picochet, so I went hunting to see if it really existed. It doesn't, quite, but could be compared to two different "real world" instruments. The Chinese Erhu - a one string violin (the sound of it, most people would find very familiar), or the country style 'diddly bow" - possibly also a "cigar box violin." I imagined more of the sound of the Erhu when reading. Finished the book tonight - it was beautiful and dark, start to finish. I find I have to really slow down and take my time with her books to digest and get the full effect of some of the scenes - they're intense and emotional, but subtly written so that it's not all laid out for you. Like Terry Pratchett's humor, if you find yourself thinking "is that what this means?" then you are likely right.Did I mention her books are beautiful? I can never say it enough. Truly I can't do them justice. If you want a book to slow down and savor and mull over like a nice wine, this is one you might enjoy.(view spoiler)[I loved the Luna twist. It was unexpected, but still hoped for. It made me want to start the book over again and gather up all the clues left in the story that started that hope and pointed towards that direction. I like that Giulia is really not a "necessary" "main character." I've noticed McKillip sometimes adds in a character that is not as integral to the central plot as one would think they should be. Giulia could as easily have been a side character, but she, instead of her lover, ends up being a focal point. I liked that.I like McKillip's style of magic - it feels more of a Grimm Brothers witch/fairy godmother style of magic, but is at the same time its own entity. (hide spoiler)]

Alright, full disclosure. I was excited to read this because I skimmed the summary on Goodreads and thought that it was literally about fighting a basilisk (badass!).It was not.It was still excellent, though.The "Basilisk" in question is actually the insignia and symbolic representation of Pellior, one of the four noble houses of Berylon. Its ruling lord, the tyrant Arioso, rose to power by slaughtering the previous rulers, Tormalyne house. What remains is what you might expect: political unrest, fledgling rebellion, and the emergence of a surviving heir to Tormalyne house, come to Berylon to seek revenge. This is where the story begins.The actual shape of the narrative is not what you'd expect at all. The vengeful heir, Caladrius, doesn't rejoin what remains of Tormalyne house and seek to regain its power. He's actually a middle-aged, melancholy bard. He has a wife and a son, and has spent his life coping with what is basically PTSD, unable to remember or process the loss and grief associated with his heritage. McKillip never directly states that he's dealing with trauma, of course; she expresses it through much more poetic metaphors. Much of the novel involves Caladrius journeying to Berylon, not quite finding a place there, and coming to terms with his trauma. It's quietly poignant.The secondary viewpoint character, Giulia, isn't aligned with either house, but ends up entangled anyhow: her storyline places her directly in the midst of Pellior palace, where (in an unusually self-reflexive move for McKillip) she becomes involved in an opera that bears odd resemblance to the novel itself.Song for the Basilisk really is a character novel. I found the conflict between Tormalyne and Pellior compelling because the characters involved in it it were compelling -- not just Caladrius and Giulia, but also the secondary characters, especially the enigmatic Luna Pellior and the princess Damiet. Damiet is a hilarious caricature of the beautiful-but-vapid princess type, and she gets some great scenes; McKillip is usually a serious writer, but because of Damiet this novel is laugh-out-loud funny.A final note: music is hugely important in the texture and theme of the novel. Both Caladrius and the secondary viewpoint character, Giulia, play the picochet, a lonely, harsh-sounding instrument . I wouldn't call Song for the Basilisk a fun read -- it's too bleak for that -- but it's a very worthwhile one; like the picochet it expresses grief and hope in a very beautiful, dreamlike way.
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Sometimes when you really want to read a book and cannot seem to find it anywhere, and then one day all your frantic search pays off and you get to read this thing you've been waiting to read for ages, it may end up not meeting your high expectations. It's not the case with Song for the Basilisk, but I think I expected something more of it, something as good as one of my favorite fantasy trilogy by this author, the Riddle-Master trilogy.McKillip is as good as ever in the way she writes, in her beautiful imagery, in the character she breathes life into, in the world she portrays. But Song for a Basilisk feels sometimes too short a story, with many details you'd love to learn left unexplained and some of the character's motivations, especially at the end, were strange to me and I didn't truly understand them. McKillip has a way with words and her storytelling that draws you into the story, once you get used to it, of course. After all, it's not everytime you start a story as an "ash"... Yet I wanted to learn more of this world, of these characters and what made them tick. I understood Rook's motivations but I was still not sure on Luna's... power, yes, and knowledge were her driving forces, but those didn't really explain to me why she acted the way she did in the end...
McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors. Her stories are so lyrical, so poetic. She is a master at hinting, at mystery, at surprise. Her stories are small and large at the same time. She has a tendency to introduce us to seemingly unrelated characters who end up being interwoven. Although as fantasy stories, there is usually an element of magic in them, they are more realistic than most fantasy in their simplicity, and yet rich in complexity as well.Song for the Basilisk is just such a story. A boy who escapes trauma and grows up in a remote place among musicians, hiding from the past he can't remember. A journey to the underworld. A city ruled by a cruel prince and his three very different children. A musician who goes where the music takes her. Rebels and protectors. Griffins, chimeras, and basilisks in symbols and in life. This book is the story of what happens when all these elements come together. Spectacular.
Anna Roberts
I love very nearly everything Patricia A. McKillip has ever written. She has an amazing, poetic, lyrical style that certainly isn't for everyone, but that I simply adore. I can swim in her words like they're music. Song for the Basilisk is no exception. It isn't my very favorite of hers, but it's delightful. The characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, and the story is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. If you've enjoyed her before, or if you enjoy beautiful, lyrical writing, this will not disappoint.
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