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Od Magic by Patricia McKillip

Mistral by cirruscastle on DeviantArt

Depicted above is my idea of the character Mistral. I really love this character and have used this name in all sorts of RPGs, MMOs, etc.

Patricia McKillip is a long time favourite author of mine. I will say right up front that her style of writing is not for everyone. It is dreamy and long on figurative language. I can imagine it being divisive.

Let's give you a little taste:
"In the Twilight Quarter, the magician's beautiful daughter threaded her needle with a filament the colour of blood. She knotted it, picked up a length of silk so light it fluttered at a breath, and began to turn a hem in a dangling edge. Illumined by fire and enchantment when Tyramin amused the crowds with his tricks, her bones were long and delicate, her body without a graceless movement. Her hair, a cloud of rippling black, glittered with the star fire of jewels and its own sheen; her eyes hinted of vision, wonders trapped within the warm amber. Such beauty tranforned easily into doves, colored fires, into air tiself and never changed, not even in the curve of her smile, when she became herself again. (McKillip 75).

The main character of this tale is not a woman. Brendan Vetch is a gardener, and has lived a quiet life, up until a plague sweeps through his village, carrying off both of his parents. In the aftermath, Brendan's brother moves away and Brendan becomes involved with a local girl.

When she wants to leave him due to his reticence and unusual behaviour, he suddenly feels a surge of power that momentarily roots her to the spot. When she leaves, she leaves running.

It is then that Od visits Brendan. She is a huge elderly woman who travel with a veritable menagerie and she invites him to be the gardener at her school in Numis. When Brendan chooses to travel there he gets more than he bargained for, including a concept of his own growing magical power.

I'm afraid I can't tell much of this story without spoiling it. Spoilers about the female character are behind the cut

Od is not present in much of the story. She is the powerful figure of legend who scarcely anyone every sees, but she is revered for her strong magical abilities.

Unfortunately, the king of Numis has begun to take over Od's magical school and to teach the students only to be vessels of power for his city. He has outlawed any magic that he cannot understand. The final scenes of the book are very satisfying. Od brings strange giant standing stones into the city, beings infused with incredible power.

They used to shift shape, but they were punished and distrusted by humans for being able to change into anything they wished. Od forces the king and the school of magic to deal with these beings and insists that they broaden their magical abilities or else she will take her school with her and leave.

Sulys is the king's daughter. She knows some small magics that aren't taught in the school of magic. She has never told her father, for fear he will force her to go to school to unlearn this type of magic or punish her.

The king wants her to marry his head wizard, Valoren, who believes whatever the king believes regarding magic and is the coldest most impersonal example of what Od's school is now churning out. She chooses to go to Tyramin, a magician who entertains in the Twilight District. She ends up helping him create a small magical rebellion.

Mistral is the magician Tyramin's daughter. She wears a beautiful porcelain mask when she is performing, but her real face is fairly average, including wrinkles. She is a consummate performer.

Secretly, she is also Tyramin. You see, Mistral's father was once the magician in charge of the magic. However, he passed away, and now she animates a life-size costumed puppet to pretend to be her father. Most of her fellow performers are none the wiser, but she knows real magic and her father was delighted to have her assist in the show while he was alive. Now she runs the show on her own and only makes her true magic appear to be mere illusion.

In one of the defining scenes of the book, she causes all of her fellow performers to disappear with Sulys' help, then ultimately reveals her true identity as both Tyramin and Mistral.

What I love about this story is the variety of female characters who are involved with magic. All of them insist on their ability to use their magic as they desire and refuse to be shaped by the king's desires of how magic should be.
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