November 26th, 2014

Macbeth the Usurper

Heir of Sea and Fire (Review) (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

I've wrapped up readingThe Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip, 1977. I originally read this back in the autumn of 1980, when I was fourteen. I effectively had no memory of this book, other than it broke distinctly from the first book.

Our heroine, a betrothed woman, goes out to look for her missing man, building up a cohort of adventurous women, butting heads with the autorities, and generally being uppity. The overall characterization was good, the pacing was fun, the motivations were clear. Best of all, the conversation in this part of the book were highly naturalistic and contained great humanity. I found the first half, maybe 60% of this book, absolutely delightful.

Where concepts are explored, they are explored nicely from inside the context of the story. You get to understand what this idea of land heir means, and how its magic, and how it matters to everyday people. I can do with more fantasy like that. Even the heroine realizing and developing her magical powers were naturalistic and engaging.

Alas, from a great beginnig came a mediocre ending. For some reason that I can't fathom, McKillip broke up her dream team and sent them home. Our heroine developed some magical powers for herself that let her do stuff. At first this all worked well, but everything accelerated towards the end, shoving our heroine towards the end of the book at a breakneck speed. I wound up getting to the end of the book so fast that I just didn't get the point of getting there.

In particular, McKillip had troubles with transitions in this book. In one paragraph, the heroine would be talking to some person, and in the next paragraph, ride a day, then speak to another person, so that if you weren't paying attention, the reader would miss the transition, and if the reader was paying attention, would still find that transition rather abrupt.

I found the heroine's sudden accelleration in magical power confusing and rushed. Towards the end, I had no idea what she was every trying to do with her magical powers, other than wish fullfillment.

Then there are some things that are both wonderful and terrible at the same time, such as McKillip's description of magic. In places, this works well, avoiding technobable and letting us see the humanity in magic. In other places, the descriptions are so thick and colorful that all the colors run together into mud. Despite the wonderful descriptions, you really don't know what the hell just happened, and worse yet, you don't really care.

Overall, the quality of this book is a good cut better than The Riddle-Master of Hed. McKillip's successfully avoided repeated her mistakes from her first book, which is a very good sign from any writer. So go and enjoy the first half of this book, but when you hit the slog, just skim.