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Kingfisher
by Patricia A. McKillip
Ace Books; $27; 346pp
Published: February 2016

This is a wonderful, rich and eccentric fantasy novel from McKillip. It presents a strange almost hallucinogenic combination of the very fae, magical realm Ravenhold and the contemporary Wyvernhold set in a world whose landscape reads like the rocky forested Pacific Northwest. The overlap of these two worlds can be seen by some of the characters in this tale.

Ravenhold has remained hidden from the people of Wyvernhold for centuries. Wyvernhold is just a few steps sideways from our current world. There are cars and cell phones but this is a kingdom with knights who get sent out on a quest to find this sacred, very ancient magical relic: a cauldron. The cauldron which belongs to Ravenhold and the goddess Calluna has been hidden in Wyvernhold a kingdom dedicated to the god Severn.

The tale begins with a young man, Pierce, who has spent his life hidden away, unaware he is a knight of the Realm in a faraway town on Desolation Point where he cleans the crab traps and helps in a restaurant run by his mother---a sorceress of great power who has never told Pierce who his father is. Restless, Pierce feels he must finally leave his mother and seek out his destiny.

There’s the rundown Kingfisher Inn, once an elaborate fin de siècle style hotel and restaurant, that now is filled with a terrific selection of eccentrics who still manage to run the restaurant but the rooms and the rest of the Inn has faded into old velvet sofas with holes, cobwebs, and dusty chandeliers drooping overhead.

Every Friday night there is an all-you-can-eat fish fry---which begins with an ancient ritual procession of men into the dining room before anyone can eat. As a contrast there’s Stillwater’s, an expensive eatery down the road where the food is a work of the highest culinary art created by a very unusual strange chef—but the meals he presents are made of air and those who eat them become addicted to Stillwater’s and slowly starve. The café is very stylish and chic—but it is a glamour covering an old, long-abandoned bank.

Once Pierce reaches the capital city of Severluna he finds his father and a brother he never knew he had; both of who are also knights.  Pierce, his father Leith and his brother Val, along with the bastard Prince Daimon and the other knights of the realm are sent on a quest for the cauldron (though they do not actually know what the relic looks like.) They wind their way up the coast and discover what has lain hidden in plain sight all these years that will right an ancient wrong. The discovery of this long-sought cauldron involves a dozen people whose lives have been impacted by the ancient magic of the land.

This is one of the best fantasies I’ve read in several months. The contrast between cellphones and basilisks appearing on a coastal highway; between the ancient goddess Calluna, her acolytes and shrine—and the normal lives of kitchen help, knights on motorcycles, sidewalk cafés and the saggy baggy behemoth of the Kingfisher Inn with its elegant past are compelling. It is a book made of illusions: of places, people and things presenting a facade covering something else. I couldn’t put the book down.

A really terrific fantasy from one of the best. ~~ Sue Martin

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