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.
I hardly know what to write. I cannot do justice to Mrs. McKillip’s work. Her plots, though perhaps simple, are not straightforward. Her characters, though somewhat wild and mystic, are complete. Her worlds and her words are inextricable. They are wild and magical and beautiful, rich and subtle with symbolism and poetry. There is more beauty, history, meaning, and story in a single sentence of hers than there is in many chapters of other works.