McKillip, McKinley, Moon

This week’s set of authors (Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Elizabeth Moon) is a group of old favorites. Growing up, I think I checked out all the books in the Riddle Master trilogy often enough that the library considered purchasing another set. And of course I adored The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, even if I thought Aerin didn’t spell her name quite right. 😉 Then there are the Deed of Paksenarrion (wonderful reading for cross-country flights) and The Speed of Dark . . . The challenge for this week wasn’t coming up with authors, but deciding which books that I hadn’t already read I would pick up. If any of their work sounds interesting to you, please do check them out — and if you have enjoyed something by them that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments.

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

Bards is a tale of history and poetry, of song and language and mystery. It has everything I love about McKillip’s writing: riddles, wonderful descriptions, a main character who doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does . . . Here’s a sample from the first chapter:

Like them, [Phelan] watched the water for a ripple, a sign, direction. Water spoke, broke in a delicate froth upon the worthless clutter it had dredged up and laid like treasure on the mud. Reeds stirred; a breeze had wakened. It would blow off the mist, the marches of that tiny, private patch of timelessness. Already the half-hidden standing stone nearest him, a blunt, creamy yellow tooth three times the height of a man, was losing its blurred edges, blowing clear.

The world McKillip has created is a wonderful mixture, with steam-powered cars and a college for bards, with standing stones of unknown provenance and tales of immortality, and her characters are just as deep and conflicted and complex. It was a joy to read this book, and I recommend it!

For more information on Patricia McKillip, see her Wikipedia page or the unaffiliated fan site,

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley

A world like ours, but with dragons. Dragons that breathe fire, fly — and are the next best thing to invisible if they don’t want people to see them. Also, dragons with scales that are more like rhino horns than lizard scales — and with pouches for their young. No, Draco australiensis is not quite what you might expect from a dragon.

Still, it is an endangered species, and so Smokehill and the Institute are a preserve, a national park dedicated to keeping them alive. On the other hand, saving a dragon’s life — well, that can cause trouble.

I love this book because McKinley has managed once again to capture a young voice perfectly, in all of its fuss and bother about growing up and why can’t others just leave him alone, and she sets Jake into a world that’s instantly believable because we know how people act and it all rings true, from the poachers to the know-it-alls (fruit loops, or f.l.s in Jake-parlance) to the could-be-anyone’s-little-sister. If you do not empathize with Jake through all of his trials, you’ve forgotten what it is like to grow up (even if you didn’t do it in a secluded place like Smokehill).

Find Robin McKinley online on her site,

Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon

This is the second book in the series, so properly, I should be reviewing Trading in Danger. Indeed, that is where I recommend you start with Kylara Vatta. Begin at the beginning, and read the whole series (as I intend to do!). So why am I reviewing this one instead? Because of the mercenaries. I have a soft spot for mercs in science fiction (as anyone who’s heard me wax on about Sabra knows), and this book really appealed to that side of me.

Intrigue, mercs, rogues, attacks, a possible mole — this story has it all, with complications galore! It’s no wonder that the series is five books rather than three. Lots of things happen. Lots and lots. And it’s all great fun — for the reader, if not for Ky. On top of the plot and the delightful characters, there are many lines that made me laugh out loud (“Slotter Key has no dim-witted officers?” “Well, no . . . I mean, yes, they do, a few.”)

Seriously. Read this series.

When asked about her writing, Moon says,

I write what I write because the characters and stories come to me and pester me until I write them. Writing long books–or groups of long books with a single story arc–lets me play in more complicated sandboxes than short books–more characters, more complexity, more layers of motivation, more (for the writer) fun. I can mess about with politics, sociology, economics, technology, history, etc. as deep-level drivers while following my characters into danger and adventure.

Readers who prefer epic fantasy might start with The Deed of Paksenarrion or the first book of the new Paks group, Oath of Fealty (will be a five book group; I’m finishing up the fourth.) Readers who prefer military-tinged-space-opera-with-ideas could start with either Hunting Party (first of the seven Serrano/Suiza books) or Trading in Danger (first of the five Vatta’s War books.) Readers who want something totally different might try The Speed of Dark.

The current group is Paladin’s Legacy, epic fantasy in the world of Paksenarrion. The next book out; Echoes of Betrayal, comes out March 2012. When a paladin has saved the day…then what? How do survivors cope with the changes a paladin wrought?

Elizabeth Moon’s Website is

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  1. The Changeling Sea by McKillip is one of my all-time favourite books (plus I can read and reread the second book in the Riddlemaster series a million times and never get tired of it), but over the last decade I’ve found her books more and more difficult to get into. They’ve gone too lyrical and for a plot-lover like me they are lost on me.

    McKinley is another fave of mine although I’ve never successfully gotten through the Blue Sword for some reason. Her two versions of Beauty and the Beast are wonderful and I just finished reading her new one Chalice. The magic system in it is fascinating.

    • It’s funny. I have a hard time getting into a new author who has lyrical language, but if it’s an author I’ve read and loved before, I’m much more tolerant.

      I’ll have to check out Chalice. Thanks for the recommendation.

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