OD MAGIC didn't reach the level of ALPHABET OF THORN for me. It had elements that should have been great--a school of magic, wizards, kings, princesses, scholars, cops, illusionists, etc.--but the overall heavy-handedness of the message and the lack of focus on the character to whom we were first introduced in the book lessened my enjoyment of the book.
Brendan Vetch is an incredibly lonely and pain-filled young man, a shepherd, who has an innate gift with plants. An old, magic woman comes upon him and sends him to a school of magic in the royal city. There Brendan ends up a gardener rather than a student. His plight was so moving, i.e., McKillip's writing is so good, that I was invested in him immediately, and then for him to disappear mostly into the background of the story just kept nagging away at me as I read OD MAGIC.
The school was meant to nurture magic, but the kings have increasingly wanted to co-opt and constrain its use because they see it as a security risk. Od, the mysterious and powerful and often-absent founder of the school, has different ideas.
To repeat, as interesting as all the other characters and their stories were (many were romantic pairings), and as much as all the stories were woven together to reach a climax and make a point, I kept wanting to read a different story--the one my mind had projected for Brendan Vetch based on the opening of the book. McKillip wasn't having that though. I might have still come away feeling great about the story if she hadn't let me down by ending the story so abruptly, preachily, and all-too-conveniently.
OD MAGIC is a good but not great McKillip.--Preeti (20 Sep 05)