Monday, October 29, 2007

Short Review of Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath -- Patricia A. McKillip

Harrowing the Dragon of Hoarsbreath is the lead story in Patricia A. McKillip's 25-year anthology of short fiction. McKillip is a veteran of the fantasy genre, having published a large number of novels and not a few short stories in her career. Her niche is traditional fantasy, touched by a shade of fairy tale, and nearly always possessing a dose of romantic intrigue.

Harrowing the Dragon of Hoarsbreath is a well-known and signature story of hers, containing all her best features. It tells the story of Peka Krao, a miner's daughter in the town of Hoarsbreath, and the coming of Ryd Yarrow, a "Dragon Harrower" (we are told that there are no dragon slayers, since doing so would be much too difficult).

The story begins with a strong sense of place: Hoarsbreath is an island locked in winter for "twelve out of thirteen months" of the year. It is home to a hardy people with their own ways unique to such harsh conditions. The story plays out as a clash between worlds: the miner's daughter loves her insulated, provincial life and represents the best of a reflective but simple love of her village. Ryd, born in the same town, has traveled widely and seen great sights, and has now come to deliver the town from its bondage to winter. It turns out a dragon is responsible for the crushing winter, a dragon which they did not know existed. A battle ensues--one that evinces a distant dreamlike quality rather than the blood and gore one might expect from newer tales. Both characters are left with something both more and less than they expected and the landscape of the future is changed radically for both.

The tale is charming, though McKillip's use of language (especially in dialogue) leaves something to be desired. She demonstrates here her mastery of the fairy tale form, owing much to the structures of Hans Christian Andersen. For those looking for romantic fairy tale fantasy, McKillip delivers a short but complex beauty. Those looking for a battle with a dragon ought to look elsewhere.

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