Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kingfisher, by Patricia A. McKillip

The topic for today's meeting of our Mythopoeic Society discussion group. As usual with a McKillip, I enjoyed reading this book, especially for passages like this one:
"Sorry, sirs," the driver announced upon consultation with his dash. "Both lanes are blocked up ahead for nearly a mile. They don't know how long before the road is cleared." He paused, listening again. "They're - ah - they're advising people to turn around, catch another road back in town that runs through the hills around the - ah, the - ah - problem."
He sounded oddly shaken. Leith asked, "What exactly is the problem?"
"Seems to be a mythological beast in the middle of the road, sir."
Or this one:
"You disgrace the name of King Arden." Somehow Leith and Val had pushed their way into the tightly crowded kitchen. "You disrupt people's lives and steal from them," Leith continued sharply. "You are not true knights, and no true god would accept your worship. You're nothing but marauding thieves."
"We are questing knights, Sir Leith," Prince Ingram protested. "You can't change facts by calling people names."
"You're trashing a restaurant kitchen. How proud would your father be of that?"
But don't think from these that this is a book that lives off the ironic contrast between a modern setting on one hand and medievalist and mythic content on the other. In fact they're strangely well integrated. This is a story set in a standard fantasy imaginary kingdom with monarchs and princes and wizards and lore and magic, with landscape modeled on the Oregon coast, that just also happens to have cars and cell phones and restaurants, lots and lots of restaurants. McKillip, who's always concentrated on the domestic arts in her stories, and has set plenty of previous books in inns or castle kitchens, also focuses this one on cookery and even more on dining.

But it's more than that. I began to realize what kind of book I was reading in chapter 3, when it dawned on me that the file of staff marching into the dining room of the all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant was actually a Grail Procession. This is a Grail quest Arthurian novel with different names, but it's not just a one-on-one encoding, as the characters are more complex than that, not everything fits neatly, there is (as one observed at the meeting) a considerable amount of The Faerie Queene mixed in also, and the characters are actually descendants of the original "Arthur" centuries ago.

Further, another informed us at the meeting that the villain's cookery appears to be a parody of a current high-end restaurant trend that I'd not heard of, called molecular gastronomy.

There's a lot to this book; the characters are lively and well-drawn even though quite a lot of them have to be crammed in to a relatively short space, and the main dispute - a scholastic/theological one - is never resolved, so maybe there'll be a sequel? I enjoyed reading this one.

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