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Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

01/06/2005. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

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pub: Ace. 315 page hardback. Price: $22.95 (US), $32.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-441-01248-5.

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Since her first novel, 'The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld', was published, Patricia McKillip has been able to write what appear to be simple stories of quiet magic. On one level, she does. Her books can be read with total enjoyment for the story being related. Usually, though, there is an undercurrent which can take the reader deeper, should they wish to dive that far.

The Od of the title is a sorceress. In the distant past, she used her magic to save the city of Kelior from its besieging enemies. The only reward she wanted was permission from the king to start a school of magic in the city. The school began in an old cobbler's shop and expanded. In time, the lines of kings began to control the school, dictating how magic should be taught. By the time of this story, King Galin has inherited a system which is suspicious of any magic that does not come under his jurisdiction. His wizards must conform to what has become a rigid regime. The fear is that as Od used her magic to aid his ancestor, then another wizard might be able to aid his enemies. That must be avoided at all costs. Galin, though, is not a bad man, merely misguided, believing the system that he has inherited is the only right and safe way.

Od, herself, has spent the intervening centuries in travel. She has collected information which is stored in the archives of the school. No-one has seen her for some time, so no-one is sure whether she is still alive until a new gardener arrives at the school. Brenden Vetch appears at the end of one summer and is met by Yar, also invited to the school by Od, but was moulded into the pattern of all the other students. Yar recognises that Brenden must have magical talent but chooses to keep silent as he is beginning to doubt the wisdom of stifling innovation and flair.

At the same time that Brenden arrives in Kelior, so does the illusionist Tyramin. His entourage of performers sets up in the Twilight Quarter, a region of the city that only comes alive at night. King Galin wants Tyramin investigated to discover if he is performing magic.

Also at this time, Galin betroths his daughter Sulys to Valoren, his chief advisor and a trained wizard. Sulys is not happy, not because she doesn't like Valoren but because she doesn't know him enough to decide. She wants to talk to him but he doesn't even seem to notice her even during formal meetings.

All these things happening at the same mean that various characters have to rethink their positions and be prepared to accept that things must change. The novel can be read as an allegory in which Od's school of magic can be taken as representing a government body with a strict hierarchy. There are rigid rules and a head of state who decrees the direction that the organisation must follow. It is only when unexpected factors arise that the follies of sticking to the rules becomes apparent. Only by allowing people to 'think outside the box' can disaster be averted. While it would be nice if the heads of government of both Britain and the United States were to read this book and take its message on board, that would seem a highly unlikely event. Perhaps though, the readers will understand the message and start to lobby for radical change in attitudes.

Pauline Morgan

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