Top Ten: The Alphabet of Thorn

Title: The Alphabet of Thorn

Author: Patricia McKillip

Nutshell: In the center of a kingdom is a city carved into a cliffside, too high to hear the ocean break against the stone below. In the depths of the city is a labrynthian library, filled with dusty, ancient scrolls and soft-eyed scribes stuffed with secrets. Nepenthe is a junior scribe, and a foundling. She has a gift for strange alphabets. She coaxes knowledge from them like a gardener coaxes blooms from the earth. Far above her, the country is gathering to celebrate the crowning of a queen, new like a green tree, and uncertain. But in the library, a young sorcerer from the Floating School comes, bringing a book that sorcery cannot persuade to give up its secrets. He finds Nepenthe to do what his masters cannot. The alphabet is made of brambles. They twist and coil around the secrets they protect. And as Nepenthe delves into their thickets, their barbs sink into her and draw her down into ancient history and strange magic.

Read-alikes: Unless I name poets, there are few authors that come anywhere close to Patricia McKillip in style. Peter S. Beagle is the closest, and Robin McKinley sometimes comes close, especially in her Chalice. Patrick Rothfuss also comes close in portions of his writing, most especially The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

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Top Ten: The Last Unicorn

Title: The Last Unicorn

Author: Peter S. Beagle

Nutshell: The unicorn did not take much notice of time. The forest around her remained unchanging because of her magic. She did not take much notice of the people that walked through it. Until the day that one, speaking to another, said that hers was the last forest blessed with a unicorn. She thought surely it could not be.

The unicorn left her forest, walked out of timeless starlit glades and into the dusty, tepid world, and found it was true. The unicorns had been gone for so long that people no longer saw her for what she was. They saw a particularly fine pony, not a unicorn at all.

The unicorn heard of a place where the unicorns had been taken. A miserable wasteland of a kindgom, ruled by Haggard, who controlled the Red Bull. She went in search of her lost kin. The tragic magician Schmendrick joined her, and then [Marion], who had lost her youth on a tale. They sought the unicorn’s kin together, but instead they began to lose the unicorn.

Read-Alikes: Patricia McKillip comes the closest. I think that the Princess and the Goblin has a passing similarity, just because of how deeply rooted both books are in the fairy tale tradition, and how rich they are with symbolism.Read More »