Song for the Basilisk

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Master storyteller Patricia McKillip weaves lush imagery with lyrical prose to create a spellbinding tale of revenge, love, and magic in her novel SONG FOR THE BASILISK.

After ambitious Arioso Pellior, the Basilisk, burns the palace of the Tormalynes, he believes that he has wiped out the ruling family of Berylon and that his power is secure. However, one Tormalyne, a young boy named Rook, survives and like the phoenix emerges from the ashes alive. He is spirited away by men loyal to the Tormalynes and taken in by the bards on the faraway island of Luly. Rook succeeds in repressing the dark memories of his past, except for faint, disturbing dreams. As the years pass, he falls in love, has a son named Hollis, and teaches music to students who one day hope to become bards themselves. His peaceful existence belies the growing turmoil of his mind and his once harmless dreams blaze into fiery nightmares. Finally, forty years after Rook first arrived on the island, a distant relative comes to Luly and forces Rook to face his past.

Rook begins his quest for his true identity in the shadowy hinterlands where he recovers his memory as well as his inherited magical powers. He moves on to Berylon where he accepts a position in the Basilisk’s music school as a cataloger. He joins members of an underground movement who are still loyal to the Tormalyne family and are plotting to overthrow the Basilisk. Meanwhile Pellior delves deep into the magical arts and trains his lovely daughter Luna as a sorceress. Yet Rook’s powers grow as well, and when he acquires a magical pipe, he and Pellior finally face one another in a raw confrontation of power.

Although McKillip’s tale follows the conventional pattern of the mythical hero’s journey, her rich language and startling images add a freshness and vivacity to an old story. Her weaving of music and musicianship into the fabric of the plot is particularly entrancing and enhances the magical aura of the narrative. McKillip, like the characters she portrays, is an adept magician, spinning a spell of words that captivates the reader from the first page to the last.