Solstice Wood // by Patricia A. McKillip

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//published 2006//

So this book is a sequel to Winter Rosewhich I read not long ago.  I enjoyed Winter Rose, although I felt it had some weak points.  Solstice Wood was even better.  While the language wasn’t quite as poetic, the story was stronger and much faster-paced.  While I wandered in out of Winter Rose over the course of a few days, I took Solstice Wood in in huge chunks.

While Winter Rose was set at a vague time far in the past, and possibly not even in our world, Solstice Wood, which was published ten years after Winter Rose, is set in modern times and firmly in upstate New York (which, if I’m honest, was not the feeling I got from Winter Rose, but we’ll get to that in a minute).  The death of her dearly-loved grandfather means that Sylvia has to return home, a place she’s avoided ever since she reached adulthood and began to build a life for herself.

While this story starts with that feeling of “angsty teen leaves home then returns and becomes the heroine and realizes her family isn’t so bad after all”, it swiftly improves as the reader begins to suspect that Sylvia’s reasons for leaving home were not the usual ones given in YA novels.  The story is told from several viewpoints, mostly Sylvia, her grandmother, and Sylvia’s cousin, but there are a few other one-off chapters thrown in to keep things interesting, as well.  I really prefer first-person  narratives that are from multiple perspectives, as we get multiple takes on the same story.

I was completely engaged in this story and enjoyed every page.  It wasn’t until later that I found myself realizing that there were some definitely continuity issues (both within the story and connecting this book with its predecessor) and still plenty of answered questions, especially about the fairy queen herself.  But the truth is, if a story can make me not realize those things while I’m in the throes of reading, I can’t really dock it too hard.

One big thing, though, was just the fact that Winter Rose did not at all feel like it took place in upstate New York.  It had a definite European feel to it, especially because it felt like anything taking place in upstate New York as long ago as Winter Rose was supposed to be happening – well, upstate New York would probably have been a tad more rustic??  (Considering that Corbet was returning to an “ancient” family home??)  It was small things like, most likely because McKillip wrote this sequel a decade after Winter Rose; she probably wasn’t thinking about a sequel when she wrote the original story!

But on the whole, I found Solstice Wood to be a wonderful story.  I really liked the characters and I also loved the contrast of this story being set in high summer versus the deep winter of Winter Rose.  Creative and fast-paced, this is a story that kept me involved from the beginning, and earned some of McKillip’s other books a place on the TBR.

Winter Rose // by Patricia A. McKillip

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//published 1996//

This is one of those books that mysterious made its way onto the TBR with no notes as to how this occurred.  Although I have never read Tam Lin, my understanding is that this is a retelling of that tale.  It is a fairy-tale-esq story about a young woman named Rois.  (Aside:  How does one pronounce ‘Rois’?  Is it French?  Spanish?  Portuguese?  The implication is that it means “rose,” but I was unable to figure this out, probably because I am not super clever.)  Rois lives with her older sister, Laurel, and their father.  They own a prosperous farm near a small village.  Despite the fact that Rois has always been rather wild, preferring to roam the nearby forest without any shoes over sitting about sewing and cooking (who wouldn’t?!), everyone in her life seems to accept her for who she is, and to love her.  Our story begins when a mysterious stranger moves into the closest holding to Rois’s.  Corbet is handsome and mysterious, returning to his family’s home – abandoned by his father on the night that Corbet’s grandfather was murdered (presumably by Corbet’s father).

This book is described (on the back cover) as a “lyrical book,” and McKillip definitely weaves together some beautiful language –

…[he] sat with us on the stone porch, as we always did, watching the day slowly bloom into night.  That’s how it always seemed to me: not the fading of a withered flower, but the opening of some dark, rich blossom, with unexpected hues and heady scents.

Or –

She lies like the moon lies, a different face every night, all but one of them false, and the one true face as barren and hard as stone.

The story itself was engaging, but somewhat complicated, and I felt that the world-building was a bit weak, as it often is when stories take place here, but involve the concept of there being a parallel fairy world.  This book ended up being a pretty solid mid-ground read for me, as I really enjoyed the language and Rois’s voice, but found myself frequently having to flip back a few pages to reread and try to capture the thread of what was happening, as McKillip would use her flowery language to sort of gloss over what was actually happening, or even whether what was happening was actually happening, or if it was just a dream or vision.

The only big part of the story I had trouble believing was the love story between Corbet and Rois.  That aspect felt really underdeveloped to me, and so it sometimes made the actions of those two characters seem a little forced, as I wasn’t really convinced that they sincerely loved each other.

The witch/evil fairy part was also a bit complicated and hard to follow; her motivations also seemed super vague to me.

There is depth to this story that I liked.  Much of it was just incredibly beautiful and evocative, and there were glimpses of beautiful humanity that I just loved, but while this was a pleasant read, with language that was magical enough that I sometimes forgot that it the story didn’t really fit together all that well, it still landed as a 3/5.  There is a sequel, Solstice Wood, which is actually my next read, so we will see how that goes.