Patricia McKillip's fantasies are always a treat; she writes clearly, smoothly, with engaging characters (even her villains are engaging) and ties together sometimes fairly thin plots with an emotional logic that is both satisfying to the reader and sufficient to sweep past any petty details.
Her latest book is no exception. Serre is a land of strange magic, concentrated in the thick forest that covers most of the small country. It has a king who rules with vehemence and vigor, cowing everyone, including his lovely but faded wife and his sole heir. The heir in question, Prince Ronan, is recently bereaved and not taking it well. The King, impatient for a dynasty, has arranged a marriage with Dacia, a neighboring kingdom that would rather be allied via marriage than amalgamated by the sword.
So we have a reluctant groom and Princess Sidonie, an equally reluctant bride, who of course meet by accident. The plot is further thickened by a wizard named Gyre, who has been charmed by the beautiful, brave and honest Sidonie. Gyre has been sent to watch over Sidonie and keep her safe by the elderly wizard Unciel; at least that's the ostensible charge to Gyre.
And Ronan has fallen into a cursed state, having met the Serran witch Brume, a fascinating creature with echoes of eastern European folklore and even more ancient myths. Brume's curses are enlightening and, while inconvenient, educational. Before it is over, there is a veritable parade of characters trooping through Brume's cottage. The cottage itself is a delicious creation: Made of bone, it is built so that Brume can stick her large feet through the bottom, shove off, and run through the forest carrying her house about her. The description of the cottage pursuing an unlucky victim is one of the most vivid and delightful in the book.
This is highly recommended for reading on a snowy night, curled up in a warm blanket. [ok, I read it on the trolley, which is NOT warm or comfortable, but it felt like that.]
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