(1948- ) US writer who began publishing work of genre interest with "The Earth Dwellers" for Galaxy in 1976 and whose first three novels were fantasy. Though she is now much better known for her sf (for which she has won the Hugo and Nebula Awards), these early novels are of considerable interest.
The first, The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), is a Quest fantasy whose protagonist, Princess Kirila, sets out to find the Heart of the World. Tricked by her own obdurate nature, she immolates herself three times in different forms of Bondage – (a) a Wonderland culture devoted to discovering the rules that make the world work, (b) a village culture subject to a drastic Thinning through its obsession with Season rites which evoke Elder Gods, and (c) a 25-year marriage to a sports-minded prince. Her animal Companion, a great purple dog who believes he is a prince under a Spell, returns for her after her husband's death; and together they find the Heart of the World. She becomes fully herself, and he – in a striking Parody scene – is transformed (> Transformation) back into the jester (> Fool) he always was, a truth concealed from him long past by a Wizard indulging in a particularly cruel Godgame. The novel is sprightly and moving.
The Golden Grove (1984) is far more visibly serious, and in its inversion of the quest structure far more explicitly revisionist in nature (> Revisionist Fantasy). The Mediterranean setting is again a land of fable: a fantasized Greek culture underlies the tale – which is set on a remote Island that none of the main characters ever leaves, for the book is about maintaining a world from within, not about bringing salvation back from beyond the horizon. At the heart of the island is the eponymous sacred grove (> Golden Bough), where holy Spiders spin webs from which cloth (and the life pattern of the island's inhabitants) are woven. This pattern has been Thinning dangerously. The fate of the protagonist, who is obsessed with the grove and with the nature of the Sacrifice she must herself make to bring about a Healing, is perhaps more than adequately announced by her name, which is Arachne.
The White Pipes (1985) is revisionist in yet another fashion, because its protagonist Fia is a mother, and the presence of her child is integrated into the tale, which is set in a medieval secondary world. Fia is a "Storygiver", one of those from the Silver Cities who can create visual representations of tales for the pleasure of others, but whose power more dangerously evokes the capacity of Story to call the tune. The pipes, which assault the Souls of those who hear them, have a similar entrancing and coercive effect.
Each of these novels constitutes an exploration of Gender issues, and a working analysis of types of fantasy character and plot; they are fantasies about Fantasy. They are not relaxing tales and are not intended to be. It is to be hoped that NK will challenge fantasy again. [JC]
other works (all sf): Trinity and Other Stories (coll 1985); An Alien Light (1988); Brain Rose (1990); the Beggars in Spain sequence, being Beggars in Spain (1991; much exp into full novel 1993) and Beggars & Choosers (1994); The Price of Oranges (1989 IASFM; 1992 chap); The Aliens of Earth (coll 1993); Beginnings, Middles & Ends (1993), nonfiction, about writing sf.
Nancy Anne Kress