Book Review: Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Posted March 25, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy
Published by Ace on February 2, 2016
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Winter Rose

A standalone novel that blends fantasy with a reality.

My Take

It’s quirky. It’s odd. It’s fascinating. It’s a McKillip all right with her beautifully descriptive writing that pulls you right in. It is not, however, the jewel-like stories I’ve read before. No, this is merely a warning that you shouldn’t expect the very fantastical fairy tales you may be used to.

Instead, Kingfisher is an easygoing and odd blend of a fairy tale of today with its cellphones, limousines, and electric bikes, knights on quests, a casual acceptance of magic used in the old ways and in new, and a cryptic appearance of the fay. Further adding to the unconventional is the queen’s acceptance and concern for her husband’s bastard, the unconventional love life of the queen and king, and the friendly(?) competition within the royal family between competing gods.

The quest will reveal “the landscape of the heart”.

McKillip keeps you wondering throughout as to what exactly is happening, much of it appearing unrelated and some of it eventually tying in. That ending certainly doesn’t help. I have to wonder if McKillip intends for this to be the start of a series, as she leaves so many questions unanswered. Yet she does answer some questions — I can’t help but like Daimon and his insight into Ravenhold’s issues — so maybe this is truly a standalone?

Pierce’s comments about his mother do crack me up, and this one points up the modernity of it:

”’People come here?’ the fire-giant said dubiously. ‘On purpose?’

’Like I said, it’s the only town on Cape Misbegotten.’

’Then why isn’t it on the map?’ the blond with the temperate eyes asked reasonably. ‘Our driver couldn’t even find it on paper.’

’Oh, that was probably my mother. Sometimes she hides things and forgets.’”

What’s the deal about the knights hunting their ancestors? Why do those “ghostly” images appear around Bayley, Pierce, and Roarke? Why does Sir Leith not call the king and warn him about the Knights of the Rising God’s deeds? How can Carrie be so stupid as to continue going to Stillwater? McKillip does give a reason, but it doesn’t bear out with what is happening. What was the deal with the ceremony preceding the fish fry?

What was the purpose of the basilisk scene? Was it filler? An adventure to fill out the quest “requirement” of perils? That basilisk certainly was an odd duck, and I’d like to know why she so desperately wants Sir Leith.

Deli-style knife fighting?? Oh, man, lol, Pierce is definitely channeling the Karate Kid. And it’s Pierce’s demonstration that kickstarts Val’s memory.

The food is fascinating. There’s the Kingfisher Grill’s, which sounds so yummy — I need to go to a fish fry, now!, and then there’s the divine non-edibles that Carrie creates at Stillwater’s.

”…until nothing was left of the dying man but life.”

It’s really three stories in one that combine at the end: Pierce’s thirst to explore outside his hometown, the grail quest with our introduction to the ruling family, and Carrie’s reveal of the Kingfisher Inn’s background and its characters. It’s both fascinating and not enough. I want more.

The Story

It’s the visit by the knights seeking a route home that pushes Pierce into following his heart.

Hidden away from the world by his mother, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point, until one day, when Heloise tells her son the truth about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen; and, Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, he learns that things are changing in that kingdom. Ancient magic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to legendary glory — or destroy it.

The Characters

Pierce Oliver, a.k.a., Sir Kitchen Knight, works in his mother’s restaurant, Haricot, and dreams of escape. Protective of her son, Heloise Oliver is a powerful sorceress who has retired (mostly) from magic and runs a restaurant in Desolation Point located at Cape Misbegotten. Arn Brisket is the sheriff of Desolation Point who longs for Heloise.

The Kingfisher Inn is…
…located on Chimera Bay, a much-faded grand landmark with its own spells and its restaurant, the Kingfisher Grill, with its famous All-U-Can-Eat Friday Nite Fish Frys. Hal and Lilith Fisher are its estranged owners. Miranda was Hal and Lilith’s daughter. Tye Fisher is Hal’s brother and the bartender. The Fishers seem to have a relationship of sorts with Heloise. Ella is the cook and their mother. Bek, the purple-haired Jayne, and Marjorie help serve the food.

Carrie is the frustrated daughter who is a brilliant and quirky cook at the inn. Merle Teague is her eccentric father who refuses to give her answers. Zed Cluny is Carrie’s busy, easygoing lover and their neighbor.

Hal’s particular friends (and knights) include Ian Steward; Jarvis Day; Curt Sloan and his son, Gabe; Josh Ward; Father Kirk from St. Benedict; and, Reverend Gusset from Trinity Lutheran.

Sage Stillwater is the enthralled wife of the celebrity chef, Todd Stillwater.

Severluna is…
…the capital in the land of Wyvernbourne, a conquered blend of many small kingdoms, ruled over by King Arden IX. Genevra is his queen. Prince Roarke Wyvernbourne is the heir. Prince Ingram, Princess Isolde, and Princess Perdita, the youngest child and best friends with Daimon, are the rest of the king and queen’s children.

Prince Daimon is Arden’s youngest, and bastard, son who is comfortable with god and goddess. Ana was his mother who died at childbirth.

Sir Leith Duresse is one of the king’s knights and Pierce’s father. Sir Val is his firstborn son, and the reason Heloise ran. Sir Gareth May has the Winter King of the North with its Winter Merlin as his ancestor? heraldic crest?; he’s also in love with Princess Perdita, although she has her doubts about his commitment. Sir Bayley Reeve is the “fire-giant” to whom Pierce refers. Dame Scotia Malory is from the north; the disreputable Tavis Malory was an ancestor. Other knights include Lord Kraken, Dame Maggie Leighton, Sir Block of Wood and Straw, Sir Jeffrey Holmes, Dame Rachel Thistleton, Sir Cudgel, Sir Alexander Beaumus, Sir Lidian Hulte is Lady Clarice’s husband, Sir Guy Morton, Dame Cynthia Barkley, Sir Graham Beamish, and Sir Kyle Steward is the snotty first cousin to the king and seneschal of the palace. Sir Niles Camden will lead the motorcycle-riding gang of thuggish knights, the Knights of the Rising God. Sylvester, Lord Skelton, is the court magus. Jeremy Barleycorn is the tournament announcer.

Severn is the god the king and his court worship. Lord Ruxley is the court mystes. Calluna is the water goddess worshipped by the women and the female side of the royal family. I think Mystes Holly Halliwell is the chief acolyte of Calluna. The dotty Lady Morrig Seabrook is both great-aunt and Mistress of Acolytes, and both Wyvernbourne and Ravensley. Tanne’s shrine is watched over by Sara’s grandfather.

Skylar and Sondra are part of the school group touring the holy birthplace of Calluna with Lady Clarice as a guide. Marcia Holmes works in the palace kitchens.

Ravenhold is…
…a conquered kingdom of the fay which led to the disappearance of its human kingdom, one of the earliest realms in the land. Berenicia was its queen at that time and an ancestor of Vivien Ravensley, her heir.

It sounds as if a mystes is an acolyte of a god(dess).

The Cover and Title

The cover is dreamy with its watery blues and greens swirling around the bust of a meditating red-haired beauty dressed in an elaborate gown of encrusted gold.

The title is the focus of the quest, the Kingfisher.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

  1. Kingfisher is very different, and I can’t recommend Patricia McKillip highly enough. Her writing is sublime…as well as confusing, and still well worth reading.

  2. Lovely review! I’ve been neglecting McKillip for decades, though in my high-school and college years I loved The Riddlemaster of Hed series, and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. This one sounds like a bit of a departure for her, but one I may want to try… although the ambiguous, confusing nature of much of her writing both intrigues and frustrates me. She does write gorgeous prose, though!

  3. It is a departure, Lark. And still good to read *grin*. I’m with you on the confusing but gorgeous writing. It’s as if she’s writing with jewels…

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