cover image Song for the Basilisk

Song for the Basilisk

Patricia A. McKillip. Ace Books, $22.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-441-00447-8

In most of McKillip's novels (Winter Rose, etc.) and short stories, this veteran author, a World Fantasy Award winner (for Forgotten Beasts of Eld, 1975), uses words in precisely the same way her mages do, to shape images and create fantastic visions where none previously existed. Sometimes the images are grotesque and violent, but more frequently they are ethereal and exquisite. McKillip's new novel is no exception. In it, a royal child escapes fire and certain execution by hiding in the ashes of the castle fireplace. Flame and death fill his mind and shape his thoughts so he is invisible to his enemies. After he is discovered, his rescuers rename him ""Caladrius. After the bird whose song means death,"" and send him to the bards living on Luly, the music school on a rock at the end of the world. There he is called Rook. He masters the picochet, a peasant instrument, loves Sirina and begets Hollis, a son. Thirty-seven years pass and his family's enemy, Arioso Pellior, patriarch of the house of Basilisk, again reaches out his hand to crush any remaining members of the house of Tourmalyne. Rook remembers that his name is Griffin Tourmalyne and he journeys home. There he becomes an impetus for revolution and an inspiration for the royal opera, which draws the novel's principals together for a performance before the Basilisk and his family. McKillip is at the top of her form in this sweeping story about the redeeming powers of kindness and the potentially deadly beauty of music. (Sept.)