In the Forests of Serre
By: Patricia A. McKillip
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
In the tales of World Fantasy Award-winning author Patricia McKillip, nothing is ever as it seems. A mirror is never just a mirror; a forest is never just a forest. Here, it is a place where a witch can hide in her house of bones and a prince can bargain with his heart…where good and evil entwine and wear each others’ faces…and where a bird with feathers of fire can quench the fiercest longing…
I was drawn to this novel because someone had mentioned on GoodReads that this novel had drawn some elements from Russian fairy and folk tales. After reading some of her novels like Alphabet of Thorn (review), I’ve come to love McKillip’s novels, her imagination and her sense of storytelling. May contain some minor spoilers ahead!
The lesson I learned reading this novel? Don’t go running over stray, white hens: they’ll give you a whole world of trouble.
In all seriousness though, In the Forests of Serre is a very wonderous and spellbinding read, almost fairy tale-like on some level. Tales and myths and the power and strength of magic depending on which kingdom you live in play an important role in this story and in the strength of the characters that inhabit it. I really enjoyed reading about the folk tales that the people hold and how they inform the societies that they live in.
While the premise of this novel sounds simple enough, it’s far from it. The reader has to pay close attention to the story becasue it can get complex with overlapping storylines and characters moving in and out in opposite directions and destinations depending on what situation they find themselves in. One minute Prince Ronan finds himself lost in the forest while Sidonie is headed to his father’s castle but then later on Sidonie is out in the forest and Ronan has to go after her from the castle. If the stakes weren’t so high and the gravity of some of the themes portrayed so grave, it could almost be a romantic comedy of sorts.
The characterisations in this novel are a lot stronger compared to The Tower at Stony Wood (review), the latest McKillip novel I read prior to this one. Everyone’s development and emotional depth are convincing and multi-layered. Ronan is a melancholic character who longs for death after losing his wife and child prior to the start of the novel and becomes centre to the wrath of the old witch Brume, a Baba Yaga-like character, for accidentally running over her white hen. Ronan has a lot to face and a lot of decisions to make, whether or not he can move on with his life and explore the possibility of finding love again. Sidonie is a strong and able princess from Dacia who is sent to marry Ronan; she’s very aware, very observant, she knows what is important to her and those beliefs are put to the test when she finds herself in the middle of a whole whirlwind of events. I wasn’t too sure what to think or make of Gyre, the wizard sent to accompany Sidonie on her journey; he has his own motivations and can be pretty slippery and sly, his decisions adding confusion to events. At one point I laughed because even Brume didn’t want to deal with him–and she’s the one everyone fears!
Oh, and Ronan’s dad, the king of Serre? Talk about father of the year, he’s on Tywin Lannister-level of horribleness IMO O_o
Overall, I really enjoyed Int he Forests of Serre, it’s very imaginative and magical and as always Patricia McKillip is amazing when it comes to her prose; it really adds a layer of mysteriousness and magic to the landscapes of Dacia and Serre. It can be simple but it’s also very beautiful. Hands down one of my favourite titles from her.