The contemporary setting of Patricia A. McKillip's new novel, Solstice Wood, is a change of pace for this World Fantasy Award-winning author. Still, despite its present-day backdrop, the novel develops into a satisfying, old-fashioned gothic romance with a dark queen, a changeling, a circle of wise women and more than a few surprises. Sylvia Lynn has escaped her upstate New York family home to live a comfortable and controlled life as a bookshop owner in California. When her beloved and rather fey grandfather dies, she must return to the family home she left behind, Lynn Hall. Sylvia never knew her father and her mother died when she was a teenager, so she was partially raised by her grandparents. Her grief-stricken grandmother is still a formidable woman and insists that Sylvia stay for the reading of her grandfather's will. What Sylvia doesn't know is that her grandmother's Fiber Guild is actually a local coven of witches who for 100 years have kept the fairy world away with the power of their stitches. Sylvia's late grandfather was no party to the Fiber Guild, and although the fairy queen was not involved with his death, she uses it to try to change the relationship between the fairies and the humans. Meanwhile, Sylvia enjoys catching up with some of her friends but is horrified to hear that she will inherit Lynn Hall. She is afraid that a secret she has kept even from her grandmother will come out and that it will ruin everything her grandmother has held dear. Identity and humanity are fluid in Solstice Wood, as almost everyone worries about whether they truly fit in. McKillip describes small-town life well and captures the way Sylvia slips easily back into some parts of this world, but not others. Time has passed for both sides and some of what she knew is no longer true. If McKillip chooses to write more contemporary novels, readers will no doubt be happy to follow her down her new path and into the woods.
Gavin J. Grant runs Small Beer Press in Northampton, Massachusetts.