NESFA Members' Reviews

coverSong for the Basilisk

by Patricia A. McKillip

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Ace Fantasy, 1998, 314 pp, $22.95

Song for the Basilisk has strong echoes of McKillip's superb Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, but I don't think it achieves the same level.

The main character, the hidden heir to the defeated house in a civil war, is whisked away as a child to be raised as a bard at a school for bards on a far distant island. He is interested in little but his music (though bards appear to be more poets than musicians) and lives the life of a teacher at the school for bards. He does take time to marry and have a son.

Eventually, he wanders almost aimlessly back to the city where he was born and enters a school for music, from which he is hired to catalog the musical manuscripts looted by the Basilisk -- the affectionate nickname given the winner in that old civil war.

Things happen and he stumbles into a considerable personal magic, ignites a new civil war and almost absent-mindedly defeats the Basilisk.

McKillip is best when she is portraying magic: McKillip's magic never comes from elaborate formulae or follows arcane, over-detailed rules. It comes from within the character and, while often quite well controlled, is never deeply analyzed and may well be unanalyzable. She shows this very, very well.

In Song for the Basilisk, however, this isn't enough by itself to match her greatest past books.

This is a good, enjoyable fantasy, but not one which will be remembered as one of McKillip's best.

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