A weird and thoroughly original-feeling mix of Arthurian legend, pagan myth, and contemporary rural Britain – with lots of cooking – meshes to form McKillip’s latest novel, ‘Kingfisher.’
Pierce Oliver (Percival) has been raised in the remote fishing village of Mistbegotten by his mother, Heloise, a retired sorceress. He knows nothing of his father, but when one day he encounters a group of knights from the big city of Severluna, he’s impressed by their shiny black limousine and their flashy leather jackets – as well as the supernatural shadows that seem to follow them. When they mention that there might be a place for him among them, his decision to travel to Severluna and seek his lost father is triggered.
Meanwhile, halfway between Mistbegotten and Severluna, the Kingfisher Inn hosts an amazing all-you-can-eat Friday Night Fish Fry – a banquet served in a strangely ritualistic manner. There are mysteries here too; things no one will tell the young cook Carrie – especially not her eccentric father, Merle. To try to find out these secrets, Carrie secretly agrees to work for the seductive yet hated cook Todd Stillwater, who runs a fancy restaurant specializing in experimental haute cuisine.
In Severluna, the king has initiated a grail quest – seeking a lost vessel of power which is rumored to belong to the god Severen. However, the priestesses of Calluna espouse a competing belief; that lost histories tell that this vessel was one of the goddess’ mercy.
Pierce Oliver finds himself caught up in the quest, and he finds that the roads he takes ‘away’ often double back and lead him back toward the Kingfisher Inn and toward ‘home.’
There are a lot of references in here – and probably some that I missed as well. Obviously the Knights of the Round Table, the Fisher King, the Cauldron of Annwn… what might seem at first to be a simple tale becomes deceptively complex. It feels like a dream where the dreamer has the unnerving sense that nothing is exactly as it seems. And here where some of my uncertainty about this book comes in: McKillip often creates fantasy worlds where, although unpleasant events may be occurring, the world itself is incontrovertibly someplace you would like to be. That’s not true of this world. I didn’t ‘like’ it and I would not like to live there. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. Overall, while the mix of magical elements with modern-day elements like cars and sneakers and cell phones and what-have-you felt original, I’m not sure it was wholly successful.
I still felt this was a very good book, with a lot of food for thought (in addition to a lot of food and food metaphors). But while Patricia McKillip is one of my favorite authors, this isn’t one of my favorite books by her.
Many thanks to Ace Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.