In the Forests of Serre

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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 other's faces...and where a bird with feathers of fire can quench the fiercest longing...

Returning from war astride his horse, Prince Ronan of Serre accidentally tramples a white hen in the road - and his inattention earns him a witch's curse.  It seems not much of a threat, though, to a man so shattered by grief that his life is worth nothing to him.  What curse is worse than already having lost your wife and child?

But the witch's words come to pass when Ronan's homecoming is ruined by his fathers pronouncement of an arranged marriage.  Numbed by shock and despair, Ronan casts his gaze toward the forest and glimpses a wondrous sight: a firebird perched on a nearby branch.  Filled with an unexplainable yearning, Ronan follows the firebird - and slips into a sideways world where the palace no longer exists.  But his intended, the beautiful Princess Sidonie, is on her way to that palace.  And her fate depends on Ronan wanting to find his way home...

This book was published in 2003.

Here is a review of this that was sent to me by Crystal Lee.


Ever since I was captivated by The Lady of the Skulls, a short story by Patricia A. McKillip, winner of the World Fantasy Award, I have been in love with her works. Her newest work, entitled In the Forests of Serre, lived up to her prior novels as well as my personal expectations.

Patricia A. McKillip has proved through her numerous critically-acclaimed novels including The Forgotten Beasts of Eld that she is not only a great author, but a superb storyteller as well. Her words cast a spell over the readers, bringing them into a magnificent world of magic and dreams and leaving them completely enchanted.

Beneath the beautiful cover illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft is a beautiful and haunting tale from one of the greatest fantasy writers of our time. The story starts out with the introduction of grief-stricken Prince Ronan, who has yet to get over the deaths of his wife and newborn child. He accidentally tramples the white hen owned by the Mother of All Witches, Brume. She places a curse on him, which he does not take heed of. Only when it is too late does he realize the power of the witch’s words. When the heartbroken prince returns home, his unsympathetic father, the King of Serre, decides to force him to enter a loveless marriage with the beautiful Princess Sidonie of Dacia. To prevent him from running away, his father hires guards to watch the prince at all times until the marriage. But before the princess arrives, the prince is mesmerized by a wondrous firebird. Forgetting all else, he follows it into the forests of Serre before the guards can follow him.

Meanwhile, Princess Sidonie journeys toward the kingdom of Serre against her will. However, the burden of saving the small kingdom of Dacia from battle with Serre rests upon her shoulders. She is accompanied by a mysterious wizard, Gyre, who begins to realize his own heart’s calling in Serre. And as the characters go deeper and deeper into Serre, the plot becomes more complex and many secrets become uncovered. After all, this is the world of Patricia McKillip, where “nothing is ever as it seems.”

(Now that the summary is down…) Even though the novel is a great piece of art, the most negative thing about the book was that since anything could happen in this world of Patricia A. McKillip (i.e. trading your heart and still being alive) at the beginning, things could get a bit confusing, if your reading one of her works for the first time. But once you got into the novels and understood her style, you learn to expect the unexpected. Other times, the novel is set in such a magical background that can only exist within our imaginations, and not quite so believable to us modern city people. But the author achieves an equilibrium between reality (not modern reality) and magic, so it becomes almost believable. The characters are all well developed and very believable—especially Gyre, who realizes his own selfish wish later on in the book.  And the author keeps a steady pacing with the plot, not giving away too much, too soon, but not holding back so much either.

Although it is an adult’s fairy tale of witches, wizards, princes, and princesses, Patricia McKillip makes In the Forests of Serre far from cliché. Instead, she draws the reader deeper into the wild and magical forests of Serre, where the reader can revel in McKillip’s detailed and symbolic prose. McKillip’s writing style is unique and original. It touches upon the themes of magic, truth, death, love, rebirth, and transformation. *Like her other works, (I especially recommend The Tower At Stony Wood and Song for the Basilisk and The Book of Atrix Wolfe), the book takes place in a magical world, but the plot is different with a unique twist and is just as great at her previous works.

The only thing I regretted was putting the book down. There are many people (such as certain friends) who do not like books to do with magic, but the greatest magic about this book is in its writing. Many people who grew up listening to fairy tales, and later found them cliché, will find many familiar elements in this novel, without the clicheness of it all. Not only that, but using a different setting and a complex plot, the author reflects themes in our every day lives into her novels. I would recommend this book to not only readers of fantasy novels, but to anyone that appreciates true magic weaved into great writing.

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