I’m not sure what’s more amazing about the first chapter of Od Magic, by Patricia McKillip: the appearance of Od, a giantess with mice in her hair; or the successful execution of a 12-page flashback. We meet Brenden Vetch about to enter a magical door under a cobbler’s shoe. He thinks back to how miserable he was back in his remote mountain village, his grief over losing his parents and his beloved, and the plants he loved listening to, until Od found him and invited him to come to the city of Kelior. At last, he emerges from memory and goes through the door into the Wizard’s College.
In the college we meet more wizards than I can keep track of. We meet the king who sponsors and regulates magic. We meet his daughter, who dabbles in a little magic on the side. And we meet a wandering conjurer in the the Twilight Quarter who may or may not be using real magic.
All the characters are interesting and sympathetic. The closest things to villains are the king and his counselor, but they are given a chance to justify their fear of wild magic. To a large degree, their conflicts are driven by the debate over the uses of magic and who, if anyone, it should serve. There’s never any real doubt that Od’s opinion about magic is going to prevail. The only question is what her opinion is.
About 150 pages in, all the pieces had fallen into places, all the characters were thrown together, and I knew I was going to finish the book that night. With vivid imagery, the action cycles in and out of the college, the castle, the Twilight Quarter, even the city. In the end, I set the book down, satisified.
As I mentioned earlier, McKillip was one of my favorite writers back in the day. She still is.