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Song for the Basilisk
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Song for the Basilisk

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  2,419 ratings  ·  132 reviews
As a child, Rook had been taken in by the bards of Luly, and raised as one of their own. Of his past he knew nothing -- except faint memories of fire and death that he'd do anything to forget. But nightmares, and a new threat to the island that had become his own, would not let him escape the dreaded fate of his true family. Haunted by the music of the bards, he left the o ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 1st 1999 by Ace (first published September 1st 1998)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  2,419 ratings  ·  132 reviews

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A.G. Howard
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will read anything by McKillip. ANYTHING. Her tales are so unique and her prose is simply stunning. <3 ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
[9/10] I've just finished Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip and I would rate it very high, even compared with other books by the same favorite author of mine. It shows better control of plot, inspired from the Grand Opera style of the 19th Century, beautiful and evocative language, strong characters and a spectacular finale.

I have found some similarities in this story with Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, but each books stands on its own merits. While I rate Kay very high in my preferences, b
Black Elephants
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
For the most part, I'm allergic to fantasy reads. It wasn't always the case, but an overdose in my younger years to the Occidental style then in the following years to an Oriental style cemented that aversion. However, there are a few authors that still make me giddy, and one of them is Patricia McKillip. I think on a bookshelf, McKillip's books often get overshadowed by megastar Anne McCaffrey's collection, but off the shelf, McKillip's are much more impressive in content and cover. The covers ...more
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. It is rare to read a book that verges on "perfect" – but more often than not, that book will be one by McKillip. "Song for the Basilisk" is definitely one of her best. In a pseudo-Renaissance setting, rivalry flares into violence, and House Berylon, whose symbol is the basilisk, overthrows and slaughters House Tormalyne, whose symbol is the griffin. However, unbeknownst to the Basilisk, the heir to House Tormalyne survives. His relatives find him, and secretly send the boy to a remote islan ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed

Just - wow.

This is lovely and lyrical and - is is a spoiler to say it’s unexpected? I was surprised. And haunted. And delighted.

I don’t have much to say beyond “I loved this”, though I do want to go out on a limb and say that the tone of this, the way it goes from almost unconvinced of its own reality (it’s really clever writing, that, and it’s classic McKillip mastery, too: eerie and just off-kilter and beautifully written and balanced) to telling a more plot-focused story almost makes thi
Jan 03, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: a-own-it, fantasy
I guess I'm in the minority here but I did not like this book. It's super boring. It takes nearly half the book before anything even starts to happen with the plot. The writing style just drags and there's way too many descriptions of things written like the author is trying to be poetic. For me, the book reads like some boring "high literature" book that you might have been forced to read in college.
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I’ve mentioned before that I had a somewhat difficult time getting into Patricia McKillip’s books, and Song for the Basilisk is definitely one of the more difficult ones, in my opinion. I wouldn’t suggest starting with it. It contains many characteristics that the other books share — Ombria in Shadow, the tyrant ruling the city; The Bards of Bone Plain, the bards of Luly; the lyrical, reflective prose. I have to be in the right mood to read McKillip’s books, I think: The Changeling Sea was the g ...more
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
Decades ago, Prince Pellior came bloodily to power in the ashes of slaughtered Tormalyne House. Far to the North on the island of Luly, a man without a name or a past trains at a school which teaches music and, to those who listen well enough, magic. The prince’s birthday opera is approaching, and as the story weaves the lost and bastard sons of Tormalyne House with the teachers at the city’s music school with the daughter the prince has molded in his own terrifying image, music and magic begin ...more
Ryan Mishap
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was simply perfect. Probably the best “high” fantasy book I’ve read. McKillip writes novels that happen to have fantasy elements, so the writing—metaphors, descriptions, etc.—isn’t easy but mostly wonderful. She also doesn’t utilize the conventions of the genre, unless it is to turn them on their heads, or explode them altogether.
The Basilisk of the title is Arioso Pellior, who took power over the land by crushing the other ruling houses, especially the Tormalyne—only one child escap
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: high-fantasy
A simple tale of vengeance, music, and the spirit world. What's really amazing about McKillip is how she is able to say so much with so little text. The woman is a poet of immeasurable stealth. I gladly worship the magic grounds she walks on...or I would if I wasn't afraid of some terrible curse happening to me as a result.
Kathy Davie
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
A fairy tale for adults…and, no! I don't mean sex.

In 2009, Song for the Basilisk was nominated for the Tähtifantasia Award, and in 1999, it was nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.

My Take
A typical McKillip with its lilting, poetic, jewel-like phrases richly packed with tension and description. My one issue with this story is that McKillip keeps skipping chunks. I spent more time than I wanted trying to figure out what was happening in various parts of the story.

I was
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was like a really beautiful dream. But this was also why it didn't receive 5 stars from me. Like a dream it unfolded and as in dreams it left much unexplained and ended leaving a taste of incompleteness.
By way of comparison it was similar to Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay a little bit. I am very inclined to read more of Patricia Mckillip but I want something longer with more resolution perhaps a series....
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fantasy
Review below.
The book description that I get for this book goes to a different McKillip novel.
Amazon's description:
"As a child, Rook had been taken in by the bards of Luly, and raised as one of their own. Of his past he knew nothing--except faint memories of fire and death that he'd do anything to forget. But nightmares, and a new threat to the island that had become his own, would not let him escape the dreaded fate of his true family. Haunted by the music of the bards, he left the only home h
“Words change, here. You must make them new as if you had never spoken them before.”


“He could still not move. He felt a breeze like silk, like the hands of the dead, on his face, on his wrists. He felt his fists clenched, his body shaking in the sunlit wood, as if he stood in all the fury of winter. He could not move, he could not make a sound. The child still hid in the hearth, breathing ash, swallowing it, the bitter taste of being dead. He stared at the child on the floor, himself, and knew
Amanda Kespohl
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
As always, Patricia McKillip blew me away with her mastery of the English language in this book. Her words wove a beautiful dream in my head from which I never wanted to wake, even when that dream turned unnerving or heartbreaking in places.

The plot follows a young boy who is rescued from the ashes of a fireplace after witnessing a tragedy and spirited away to a rocky island to hide among the bards. He's given a new name, Rook Caladrius, and taught to forget the life he left behind. But though
Sep 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
Finding the plot in this was like digging for a dead leaf buried five feet in the earth and having a 10-foot-tall rose bush as a barrier. I like fantasy but not that much. And once I got past all of the flowery randomness and found a plot, I wasn't at all impressed.

I was looking for a book that would entertain me for an airplane ride, something light, fun, with a bit of fantasy. I had read another McKillip book and I liked it, so I thought "Song of the Basilisk" would be it. It wasn't. This book
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it
McKillip doing an elliptical, lyrical take on a tried-and-true fantasy trope of revenge. On the elliptical side, it has one of the most opaque openings I've read in a while - a dense wall of confused identity and jarring sensations that rivals pure avant-garde wordplay. That opening *does* make sense once you learn the traumatic backstory of the character whose experience it relates, and as the novel goes on, it shifts more and more to conventional plot and description, but with McKillip's wild ...more
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, 2011
McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors. Her stories are so lyrical, so poetic. She is a master at hinting, at mystery, at surprise. Her stories are small and large at the same time. She has a tendency to introduce us to seemingly unrelated characters who end up being interwoven. Although as fantasy stories, there is usually an element of magic in them, they are more realistic than most fantasy in their simplicity, and yet rich in complexity as well.

Song for the Basilisk is just such a st
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wouldn-t-buy
Definitely a good book to lose yourself in.

McKillip had a tendency in this book to swamp the reader in imagery and metaphor, but with patience and reading on, things do become clearer. Her writing did not befuddle my sense of vision as I visualized what was going on, at least.

However, I did not fall in love with this book. Sorry, McKillip fans, it was a fairy-tale, not a love affair. :)
The Sheila
Mar 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting set-up, gorgeous writing, characters that leave me absolutely cold. As this is my usual Patricia McKillip Critical Triumvirate, you may assume the same review for any of her other books. (She has some earlier short stories that remind me of Yolen or LeGuin which seem to grasp the human element a little better, though the writing is more fablelike and thus less appealing to me.)
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This story is one of my favorites of hers. Every time I read it, it grips my heart and enchants me. The love of father for his son, and a son for his father, helps drive the story, but all of it is threaded with the importance of story, of music.
Feb 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
How very satisfying that was. Luna pulled through for me as a character in just the way that I hoped. Hooray!
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
it was fun to read. the story telling was good. i enjoyed the writing style
Cathy Jung
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another good book by Patricia McKillip! Interesting characters & story. ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
For whatever reason, the typically misguided algorithms at Goodreads have been urging me to read McKillip's Riddle-Master of Hed (hmm title). Then I noticed that my spouse had picked up a Gateway omnibus edition of three McKillip novels, starting with Song for the Basilisk. Well what the heck, I picked this one up for a closer look, and was drawn into the moody prose.

About thirty pages in, I finally read the blurb on the back cover. "There are no better writers than Patricia A. McKillip," says p
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another excellent work by McKillip, though undercut somewhat by a final twist that felt rushed and not really earned. That twist turns on a major character reacting in a way the reader is very unlikely to expect, and while it's possible McKillip signaled its possibility earlier in the book, if she did it certainly slipped past me.

That ending knocked a star off the book for me, but it remains a wonderful work to lose oneself in. If the ending comes a bit out of nowhere, I was willing to go with
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Just as rich and lyrical as the Forgotten Beasts of Eld, this tale of revenge starts off subverting your expectations with a main character who can't seem to keep to a single name and takes his sweet time getting around to accepting his fated quest. By the time the main story really starts the guy is already forty-odd years old and has a son the age of the typical fantasy hero.

If FBoE and this one are indicators of McKillip's skill, I'll be happy to read more of her stuff. Hell, nowadays when I
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Patricia A. McKillip is amazing and Song for the Basilisk is one of her best. Mystics, mystery, and music, this book has in abundance. Throw in a hefty dose of treachery and revenge; love and forgiveness, along with McKillip's unparalleled way with words, and you have pure magic.

“What you say, when you say a word. What you think when you say it. What I see and hear when you speak. Words are ancient; visions and echoes cling to them like barnacles on the whale’s back. You speak words used in poet
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was really pleasantly surprised by this book! It’s a tale remarkably told. It’s rather dreamlike, with a lushness and a restraint that makes it all seem uncanny. But it’s also a fantastical adventure/ revenge tale with wonderful characters and beautiful prose. It’s also got warring houses, heroes, villains, and tons of magical instruments. The magic system relies on musicians and instruments and I found that riveting.

This book is also unlike other fairy tale-esque books geared towards women, s
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
love this author!
have long had absolute favorites of the trilogy and forgotten beasts- all written in the 70's, read by me not long after that, and over and over again in the years since- so was hesitant to try more recent works and perhaps sully the love.
this book is just as good. seems all her work speaks to me in a special way. love the music. love the poignancy of the arcs her characters travel.
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Patricia Anne McKillip is an American author of fantasy and science fiction novels, distinguished by lyrical, delicate prose and careful attention to detail and characterization. She is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award, and she lives in Oregon. Most of her recent novels have cover paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft. She is married to David Lunde, a poet.

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