This review was originally posted on Hot Stuff for Cool People.
I don’t even know where to start with this review. This book is such a beautiful, frightening, vivid hallucination. After I read this book, I have weird dreams. I feel like I’m walking around in a fog because this book is so realistic, it leaves the real world looking a bit drab.
‘The Cygnet and the Firebird’, by Patricia A. McKillip, is a fantasy story about two cousins, Nyx and Meguet. The story starts with a magician thief, Rad, who comes to steal a key. He’s followed by a firebird, who turns into a man, Brand, at night. Rad and Meguet make their way across time and into Rad’s homeland, Saphier, which is mostly a big desert inhabited by the ghosts and memories of dragons. Meanwhile, Nyx tries to solve the problem of Brand’s encorcelling.
It doesn’t sound like much. It sounds like an fantasy story, and maybe a convoluted one, at that. But it’s so much more. The amazing thing about Patricia A. McKillip is the way she writes. Not only is her writing solid, not only does it flow, but it is nearly magical in its ability to make you see and feel exactly what the characters are feeling and seeing, until you actually believe you’re there, in the story. And, I think, in ‘The Cygnet and the Firebird,’ she shows off this talent more than in any other book. Like I said, it’s like a hallucination, a dream that feels real and leaves you wanting more when you wake up. It also has amazingly well-realized characters, and a strong, attention-grabbing plot. It’s never boring. The intelligence and emotion behind the writing are both strong and deep.
There’s a prequel to ‘The Cygnet and the Firebird,’ called ‘The Sorceress and the Cygnet.’ This prequel is good, but for me, it wasn’t as wonderful as ‘The Cygnet and the Firebird.’ I recommend you read it, but read it after ‘The Cygnet and the Firebird.’ That’s how I read them, and it works just fine. You’re only going to be missing a few minor points, none of which really have much to do with the plot of ‘The Cygnet and the Firebird.’
This is the kind of book that you just have to let wash over you. Don’t force yourself to understand everything that's going on from the first page. Just let yourself sink into it. It’s that kind of book.