Friday, February 10, 2006

Review: _Alphabet of Thorn_ by Patricia McKillip

Words have power. A book written in the shape of thorns endangers a large kingdom at a time of changes. This is the premise of Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip. The book is a powerful novel by a master of the Fantasy genre with its descriptive setting, intriguing characters and tight plot.

Ms. McKillip provides a descriptive setting that makes the book powerful. Readers learn of the kingdom of Raine, which is made up of twelve smaller kingdoms or crowns. The first crown has its huge castle on a cliff on the edge of the sea. Towers overlook the sea while a huge library extends into the depths of the cliff below the castle where the transcribers live. A large plain stretches from the castle to the forest. In the forest is hidden the Floating City of mages. Magic makes the city hide or float above the forest depending on events that occur. This vivid place is brought to life to help influence the characters.

Next, there is an air of mystery around the characters that makes them intriguing. Nepenthe is an orphan who works as a translator of books for the library. She is gifted with the ability to translate ancient languages, but knows nothing about her past, so she is lonely. Tessara is the young queen. She does not want to rule and always hides from responsibility. Bourne is a young mage unsure of his true abilities or loyalties. The three young people face events that help them to grow. Their growth keeps readers excited as to how they will turn out.

Finally, the tight plot helps make the book powerful by keeping the readers’ attention. Ms. McKillip weaves three separate stories into a strong whole. Bourne delivers a book to Nepenthe for translation; a book written in an alphabet of thorns. She begins the translation and becomes obsessed by it. The book tells the story of the ancient conqueror Axis and his sorcerer Kane. While she works on the book, the newly crowned young queen Tessara struggles with her new responsibility. She avoids duties while making new discoveries about herself. Bourne’s uncle plots to overthrow the queen, leaving Bourne feeling confused. Every plot thread comes together in a surprising conclusion.

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip is a powerful contribution to the Fantasy genre. A descriptive setting, intriguing characters and tight plot blend together into a strong book that is memorable. Ms. McKillip writes books that stay with readers for years. Each new book she writes adds to her memorable collection of works. This one increases her status as a masterful writer of Fantasy.

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