Book Review: A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories

Lily.  Ruen.  Erana.  Coral.  Annabelle.  What do these five girls have in common?  Each of them have more than a little magic in their lives, and in this collection of five stories, many strange and mysterious things happen.

In “The Healer,” Lily is a healer’s apprentice who was born mute.  With the aid of a traveling former mage and Luthe, the most powerful magician in the land, can she find her voice?

In “The Stagman,” Princess Ruen is saved from her vicious, usurping uncle by the mysterious Stagman.  With the help of Luthe and the prince of a neighboring kingdom, she reclaims her land.

Erana is the adopted daughter of a witch in “Touk’s House.”  After learning why she was adopted, she leaves the witch and the witch’s son and travels as a healer, only to find that her home is the place she left behind.

In “Buttercups,” the farmer Pos falls in love with and marries the young and beautiful Coral.  However, Coral’s coming to Buttercup Hill may be a curse. . . . Or is it a blessing?

And finally, in “A Knot in the Grain,” Annabelle isn’t as happy about moving to a new house as she’d like her parents to believe.  However, over time she comes to love her new town, and with the help of a mysterious box that she finds in the attic, she manages to avert a catastrophe.

If you liked Robin McKinley‘s Damar stories, this collection is definitely worth reading because the mythical land of Damar is the setting for four of the five stories in A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories.  Damar is also the setting for Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.  The wizard Luthe, who appears in two of these short stories, plays an integral role in these two novels.

As for the stories themselves. . . .  I liked “The Healer” and “Touk’s House” the best.  They were strong, well-written tales.  Critics might say that the characters were two-dimensional, but that’s normal for short stories, and I came to like Erana, Touk, and Lily.  “Buttercups” was good as well, but “The Stagman” was a little weirder:  Ruen from “The Stagman” is not a convincing character, and makes an illogical decision at the end of the tale without an explanation for it.  And finally, “A Knot in the Grain:”  Though it takes place in the 1980’s or 90’s, this fantasy story fits right in with this collection as Annabelle discovers that she truly cares about her new home and takes steps to save it.  All in all, this is a worthwhile collection for McKinley fans or those who love fantasy.


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