My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In the kingdom of Raine, an abandoned baby is found and raised by the Royal Librarians of Raine. One day the girl, Nepenthe, is given a mysterious book written in a language with an alphabet of letters shaped like thorns. It turns out to be an epic poem documenting the conquests of the emperor Axis and his sorcerer Kane, “the Hooded One,” three thousand years earlier. The young queen of Raine and her mage Vevay also come into the story.
I reread this for the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club here on GoodReads and I don’t quite know what to say about it. The Axis & Kane story was much more compelling than most of the Nepenthe story. And there are too many points of view in the latter; the female characters were consistently more interesting and maybe McKillip should have kept the focus on them. And the ending seemed a bit rushed. If you have not read McKillip before I would recommend The Forgotten Beasts of Eld instead.
Some bits I liked:
“She could not see the sky, only green and shadow woven thickly above her, yielding not a scrap of blue. She breathed soundlessly. So did the wood around her, she felt; it seemed a live thing, alert and watching her, trees trailing wisps of morning mist, their faces hidden, their thoughts seeping into the air like scent. It was, she thought, like being surrounded by unspoken words.”
“Epics are never written about libraries. They exist on whim; it depends on whether the conquering army likes to read.”
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