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Harrowing the Dragon    by Patricia McKillip order for
Harrowing the Dragon
by Patricia McKillip
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dragons, a troll, a unicorn, witches - they're all here, along with magical realms and a variety of heroes and heroines in fifteen short stories from one of the best fantasy writers ever. As always, Patricia McKillip's style is not explicit - she hints at possibilities, and makes the reader work to fully appreciate her offerings.

In The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath, the author brings together two very different people - a man, the Dragon Harrower, whose goal is destruction and change, and a young woman, Peka, who loves 'Peace and quiet and private places'. A talented musician is caught in the middle, between two countries (one in denial and the other vengeful over shared history) in A Matter of Music. I liked Lady of the Skulls very much - amongst the usual brainless warriors on quest after treasure is one who thinks and feels and sees.

Another delightful quest is that of The Fellowship of the Dragon, seeking a queen's missing harper in perilous lands - the questors drop off one by one, as each finds her heart's desire. Syl, a talented artist, asks a great deal of The Stranger (one of the best stories here) to protect her community. In Transmutations, Cerise refuses Aubrey's offer, saying 'I don't want a silent shining path of gold. I need the imperfect world broken up into words.' Several of these shorts are light and playful - A Troll and Two Roses is great fun, as is Baba Yaga and the Sorceror's Son.

Some are particularly atmospheric, such as the powerful Ash, Wood, Fire, while others, like Toad (a Frog Prince re-telling) verge on horror. McKillip also offers re-tellings of Romeo and Juliet (Star-Crossed); Beauty and the Beast (her wonderfully romantic Lion and the Lark); and the elegant Snow Queen. And she strays into urban fantasy, showing the mostly elderly Witches of Junket fight an eight century old evil - 'The thing inside Oyster Rock is coming out.'

Patricia McKillip's work has been on my must read list since my first exposure to her Riddle Master of Hed. She shows her range in her Harrowing the Dragon collection, which offers quite a variety, with something for every fantasy taste.

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