Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Riddle Master by Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip is one of my favorite authors.

This is due to the fact that one of her books, Winter Rose, is an annual read for me. Once December hits, I whip out that novel and read it, every single year. It is the embodiment of how I feel about winter and the cold. It takes my desire for spring and green growing things and the forest and wraps it into a real-life, fantastical twist. If I could pick a book character who I feel most akin to, it would be Rois, the heroine of Winter Rose.

It is probably because this book is so integral to my continual growth as a writer, a reader, and a dreamer that I am very critical of any other book that McKillip publishes.

You may recall my review on her book that came out a couple of years ago, The Bards of Bone Plain. It was a more critical review -- the book didn't sit with me very well. It did not capture the true writing genius that I know McKillip can have. Her other book Ombria in Shadow is one that has it. The Bell at Sealey Head is another. But McKillip does have one overarching fault that, when it absorbs into her writing, can almost destroy a book -- that is when she gives in to or falls in to her own personal cliches (a style which I discuss in my earlier book review).

Personal cliches are cliches that authors make for themselves. You can very easily fall into them just by having a distinctive writing style and being lazy. The first is good; the second is bad. By the third or fourth time you use the phrase 'gimlet eye' (which I may or may not have been guilty of in the last week which is why that is the example used *coughcough*) your readers are going to notice and roll their eyes.

You never want your readers to roll their eyes at you. At your characters, yes. At your humor, sure. But never at you. Your readers should forget you exist until they pick the book up or put the book down. Between the pages, you are invisible.

McKillip's cliches generally take the form of being overly flowery. Now if you've ever read any of my writing or know my favorite books, you'll know that I love descriptions! I love words and vocabulary, I love flowery writing. I love magical phrases. But there is a line, and past that line I'm waiting for Puff the magic dragon to come gallivanting out with his eyeballs googling in opposite directions. Don't go that far.

McKillip can have the tendency to do this with the magical descriptions. The cliche that makes me almost groan when she falls in to it is her overuse of mystical, magical, rhetorical questions delivered by her characters.

Now McKillip is, as I have called her before, a true 'chef with words'. I adore her writing. I want to own every book she has ever published, even the ones I'm not a huge fan of. So don't take all of this criticism and negativity as a whole opinion.

But to the matter at hand, finally -- I am almost finished reading the Riddle Master Trilogy by McKillip. And it's a mixed bag of worms, I can tell you.

I almost took a break a third of the way in to the trilogy. The first book is an absolute bear, filled with every personal cliche McKillip has ever employed way too many times. I was, frankly, bored. The whole underlying theme of the book is comprised of riddles. However, you never get any answers to any of the riddles in the first book. It felt to me like McKillip was trying to be overly mysterious. She didn't reveal anything. You didn't know anything after finishing the book. Nothing was ever figured out. And frankly, I wasn't interested. I thought I wasn't going to enjoy the rest of the trilogy at all.

It's a good thing I bought an omnibus three-in-one because if I hadn't owned the other two books already, I likely would never have finished the trilogy.

The second and third books in the trilogy fly by -- this is the McKillip I love!! There are still some flowery rhetorical questions in there, but the plot and pace and what you can actually know about the book grows rapidly. We finally start to get some answers, and the tale begins to unfold. It shouldn't have taken 180 pages to do so, but it does at last.

Is it worth struggling through those 180 pages to get to the second and third book? Yes. I would definitely say so. I have a general principle, anyway, that if I start something I'm going to finish it -- there are very few books or series I have not finished, due to this. I had one book earlier this summer that I put down after a hundred pages because it was just bad and that is very rare for me. But even without that stubborn principle of seeing a book through to the end, this trilogy is worth it. I would recommend it to any fan of fantasy or fiction and definitely any fan of Patricia McKillip.

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