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Solstice Wood    by Patricia McKillip order for
Solstice Wood
by Patricia McKillip
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Solstice Wood is a departure for Patricia McKillip, as fantasy that touches the modern world, albeit in a rural setting, that of upstate New York. It's a story of strong family ties, stretched thin by old secrets and otherworldly connections. Narration alternates between different points of view, showing events from all angles (which was sometimes confusing).

Sylvia Lynn owns a bookstore, and has a strong relationship with Madison, a music teacher, despite her obsession with tidyness and his sloppy habits. She hasn't been home for seven years, when her grandmother Iris (Gram) calls her to return for her grandfather Liam's funeral to Lynn Hall. Behind this old family home, the woods are 'an immense, dark, frozen wave about to break over it.' There Syl encounters a 'lanky, twiggy troll', her younger cousin Tyler, who's visiting after his mother's re-marriage. Aside from Syl's aunt, who only stays for the funeral, her Great-Uncle Hurley (Grunc) lives with Gram.

It turns out that this sylvan setting has a lot going on - there's a longstanding coven of witches who meet regularly as the Fiber Guild to stitch barriers against places of passage for the magic surrounding Lynn Hall, 'the great door between worlds'. There's Judith Coyle, a wannabe wood-witch who calls herself Undine, and her father who wants to make the fey a tourist attraction. There's Owen Avery, whose family have for generations helped the Lynns 'guard the passages between worlds' and who keeps from Iris the fact that he himself has a fairy lover. And Owen's daughter, Syl's childhood friend Dorian, loves Leith Rowan, from a family 'as old as the hills and scattered all over them'.

Sylvia is inducted into the sewing circle. But as they stitch, a fey power stirs in the dark woods, a changeling is exchanged for a human, barriers are broken, a gauntlet is flung, and a cookie-baited trap is sprung. To Gram's dismay, truths must finally be faced, and the unknown accepted. As Tyler and Judith muse towards the end, 'You can't see what you can't see until you can see it.' Though not quite what I expected from one of my favorite fantasy authors, I enjoyed Solstice Wood and hope that Patricia McKillip plans to write more sylvan fantasy.

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