In the Forests of Serre
Prince Ronan of Serre has recently been devastated by the death of his wife and infant child. In his grief, another marriage is the farthest thing from his mind, but his conniving and wrathful father Ferus has already planned a second wife for him — Princess Sidonie of Dacia, a politically shrewd match. Needless to say, Sidonie isn’t thrilled with the upcoming marriage either. Then both of them, along with Sidonie’s wizard guide Gyre, become entangled in the mystical magic of Serre’s forests, where they must stand together or perish.
McKillip always writes well; here, as always, she uses evocative descriptions and striking imagery to draw the reader into the magical world of Serre. No image-motif runs through this book, however, unless giving away one’s heart counts. Still, the beauty of her writing is undiminished. The characters are well-rounded and interesting; I found Sidonie an attractive heroine — both courageous and feminine — and Ronan a well-developed protagonist. Gyre, too, is a complex and interesting character.
The book’s magic is muddled, as I’ve come to expect from McKillip. Serre’s magical power is, it seems, all one force which manifests itself in different ways, some ‘good’ and some ‘evil’ but all necessary and positive in the end. (The characters were just as displeased with this understanding of Serre’s magic as I was, but it’s obviously the one the author supports.) The use by a protagonist of the one power portrayed as absolutely evil is at least passively countenanced; he does use it to save another person. Another character who uses this and other questionable powers for his own ends remains morally ambiguous (in the author’s and the reader’s estimation), which I appreciated — morally ambiguous characters are interesting, and this one is no exception.
I also appreciated the book’s portrayal of self-sacrifice; the main characters all are (eventually) willing to sacrifice everything for each other. I especially liked the portrayal of Ronan and Sidonie’s relationship — although they are not “in love” with each other, and see romantic love as impossible, they are both still willing to sacrifice everything for the other, which I found very powerful. They are very appealing protagonists, both artistically and morally, and their portrayal was the highlight of the book for me.