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The Tower at Stony Wood    by Patricia McKillip order for
Tower at Stony Wood
by Patricia McKillip
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though there's always an otherworldly element to Patricia McKillip's fantasy writings, it's more pronounced than usual in The Tower at Stony Wood, which has the feel of a series of dream sequences. It incorporates re-tellings of two familiar tales - that of a selkie who stays on land for love but always feels the pull of the sea, and Alfred Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott, in which the doomed weaver spies Sir Lancelot in her mirror - 'And moving thro' a mirror clear / That hangs before her all the year, / Shadows of the world appear.'

Indeed, the opening evokes that poem strongly - a lady embroidering in a tower sees a knight in her mirror, wonders about him, and sews him into her work. He turns out to be Cyan Dag of Gloinmere, held in high regard at court since he saved the king's life after a battle in which the folk of the North Islands were defeated. Regis Aurum, King of Yves is now marrying Gwynne, the Lady of Skye, a western land rich in magic. But an old woman, the Bard of Skye, warns Cyan that the lady who has come to the king is a monster, that the true bride is imprisoned in a tower, and must be rescued. Our hero flees an encounter with the supposed Gwynne, leaving court and Cria, the woman he loves, without explanation.

His wanderings take him to four towers, and tie in various sub-plots. One involves the village of Stony Wood, whose baker, Sel, is more than she seems. Sel's daughter Melanthos spends much of her time watching a mirror in one dillapidated tower. The island of Ysse, the setting for a second, houses an old man whose wits wander, and his two sons, Thayne and young, crippled Craiche. Their father sends Thayne on a quest to win the power of a dragon and its hoard, in order to wage war again against Gloinmere and restore autonomy and prosperity to the North Islands. The third is the dragon's tower, while the lady in the fourth counters all Cyan's expectations.

This is a tale with a very loose weave, that eventually reveals a surprising tapestry. Like its questing hero, the story seems to be heading all over the map, but all ultimately comes together and makes sense. Though this is not one of my favorites of Patricia McKillip's works, The Tower at Stony Wood is still very fine fantasy.

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