June 12, 2006

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

floating woman holding a maskI think it was high school English class that instilled in me a skepticism about theme as an identifiable element of fiction. I was always of the opinion that it might be an emergent property of any sufficiently complex work, but felt that it was unlikely to be carefully engineered into any work I would want to read. This attitude makes me suspicious of any work where I feel like the there is an identifiable theme, moral, or lesson.

I say all that to explain my mixed feelings about Od Magic. The book is clearly about the costs of fear. How a population can be subdued by it, how it can incapacitate individuals, how it can corrupt those who wield it. It seems clear to me that this book was inspired by and serves as a commentary on the current US political environment. And the fact that I am in complete agreement with the points Ms. McKillip seems to be making with the book doesn't change the fact that I'm a little uncomfortable reading a novel that appears engineered to make those points.

And yet, despite the transparency of the motivation, McKillip, a master of her craft, has wrapped her message in a story that is actually interesting and peopled it with characters who are not cardboard cutouts. When I smacked my trepidation upside the head and locked it in the closet, I was left with a book that had me eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next. Don't get me wrong, it's not a unique story (man is confronted by mysterious stranger who sends him to the city to a school for magic. It's been done to death, even by McKillip), but it's presented with enough twists and charming details to make it feel both fresh and timeless.

So my prejudices aside, here is a pleasant book with some relevant social commentary. What was I complaining about?

Posted by jeffy at June 12, 2006 10:59 PM
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