I have a Top Three favourite authors. By necessity it is a fluid top three: how else could I fit in Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia C. Wrede, Steven Brust, Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, Kate Stradling, Alexadre Dumas, Lloyd Alexander, Lillian Beckwith, Gail Carson Levine, Robert Louis Stevenson and so on? It crosses most genres (though you might have noticed a decided tendency toward fantasy) and quite a few centuries as well.
Patricia C. Wrede has been part of the Top Three since before I even knew I had a Top Three. As far as I recall, the first book of hers that I read was the last of the Enchanted Forest Quartet: Talking To Dragons. I picked it up at my local library one day, enchanted by the gorgeous watercolour cover that was all muted greens and greys until it got to Shiara’s flaming hair, and added it to my already high stack of books. That was in Queensland, when you could still check out fifteen books at a time, and I always had a full card.
I loved the way Patricia Wrede bent her fractured fairy-tales, imbuing Daystar with a kind of practical wisdom learned by rote from his mother Cimorene; and I loved watching Shiara’s bursts of temper that derailed the good his manners had achieved. I loved the stupid yet clever princess, who was determined to ensnare a man. I didn’t yet know about the thing called Worldbuilding, but I was already beginning to appreciate it.
I found Dealing with Dragons a year or so later, a cheap paperback with a really bad cover, sitting on the shelf at an opshop. It wasn’t until after I read it that I began to remember names and situations, and to wonder where I had heard them before. After that, it was back to the library to scroll through the microfiche in search of more books by Patricia Wrede.
There are so many good things to say about Patrica C. Wrede. So much I could go on and on about. Her characters. Her world-building. Her wonderfully wacky situations. From her Enchanted Forest quartet to her Mairlon the Magician, and from Sorcery and Cecelia to the Lyra Chronicles, I’ve loved almost everything she’s written. At the moment, my favourite among her books wavers between Mairelon the Magician and The Raven Ring.
Mairelon is a favourite almost purely because of well, Mairelon. And Kim. And Hunch. And the fact that it’s set in a kind of regency England that emulates the best of Georgette Heyer’s regency England. It’s pure, madcap amusement.
The Raven Ring is a favourite because of much better reasons. I still love the characters: in fact, I love them more than almost any other of Patricia Wrede’s characters. But added to that love is the appreciation I have for her worldbuilding in this particular book. In her Frontier Magic chronicles, I felt that Patricia Wrede focused on worldbuilding to the detriment of her characters. They’re a wonderful study in worldbuilding, and I do sincerely like them, but I feel that the characters and plot have suffered as a consequence of the extensive focus on world and system. There’s no such division in The Raven Ring. The characters are drawn finely (Eleret and Karvonen have stayed with me for far longer than most other characters), and the world is a richly layered one with all its own colloquialisms, customs, ways of life, and hierarchies. It has just the right amount of everything.
Added to my admiration for her work is my appreciation for Patricia Wrede’s writing advice, which came at a time when I was wondering if anyone else thought about writing in just the same way that I did. I stumbled upon her blog one day and found that she was saying things I had just begun to learn by myself. It was a huge encouragement. Since then, I’ve begun to regard her as something of a writer’s writer: she, more than any other writer I know, has influenced my writing by both word and example. In short, she’s everything a favourite author should be.
If you want to check her out for yourself, her blog is called Six Impossible Things, and her books are available well, everywhere.