The enchantress Od founded her school of magic in the city of Kelior hundreds of years ago, then left it under the governance of the king of the country of Numis. Over the years, magical practice became more and more controlled, as the rulers of Numis feared anything they could not understand or control. When Brenden Vetch, a gardener with no understanding of his own prodigious magical powers, arrives at the Od School of Magic, at the same time as the marvelous street-magician Tyramin turns up in Numis, their arrival causes great political and personal turmoil.
I enjoyed this book. As always, McKillip’s stylized prose is beautiful. Here, she applies her dreamiest tone to descriptions of the Twilight Quarter, a magical district in Kelior where street performers of all types entertain the admiring crowds only at night. However, the story here is simpler than in many of McKillip’s books, so before 300 pages are out it starts to feel a little repetitive, like it could have been better as a shorter book. In addition, the book has a vaguely political and strongly ideological point: the strict rules confining magic, set in place by kings who fear that which they cannot control, oppress and destroy the potential of many virtuous beings. The kings must loosen their hold and allow magical expression to flourish; the best, most powerful magic is that which has never been under the kings’ control. Whatever you think of this message, it gets a little old after awhile, especially since it’s clear from about chapter two that this is the POINT of the book. Most of McKillip’s books do not have such a forceful message to them, and I felt that this one suffered from its extreme focus on this ideological theme.
The book certainly had its good points, though, one of which was its characters, who are quite interesting. There is no real villain here, only various misguided people, none of whom is perfect. Since there’s not really any true evil in the book, good and evil magic aren’t particularly delineated — most magic is good, or at least neutral, it seems. Since this book has an almost Harry Potter-esque ‘magic-school’ motif, the magic is somewhat more of a science than in some of McKillip’s books. Some people are apparently born with a special talent for it, others with none. However, as in all of her books, the magic is still somewhat mystical and not very clearly explained. In other moral areas, the book is fairly clean — there is implication of a couple of extra-marital (though not adulterous) affairs, but nothing is described.