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Three To See the King

Magnus Mills

Picador USA

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0312283555

176 Pages ; Price: $19.00

Date Reviewed: 02-21-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



General Fiction, Fantasy

03-18-02, 04-29-02, 12-13-02, 01-07-03, 04-30-03

When Magnus Mills is doing the miniaturizing, smaller is definitely better. In his third novel, 'Three to See the King', the one-time bus driver takes the reader into a very modern fable of tin houses and big dreams. It's a virtuoso fantasy, unique in every respect. In Mills hands, reality is as fragile as a breeze. When the wind blows, it blows through the eaves of a tin house and changes everything.

The unnamed narrator lives in a tin house on a vast plain, alone and perfectly, if fussily happy. He's joined by Mary Petrie, and together they meet his various neighbors. Eventually, they journey to join a large group of people who are moving beyond the tin house alone on a plain, joining together under the leadership of a mysterious magnetic man named Michael. Our narrator does not exactly fit in.

This novel is written so closely, in such a perfect voice that Mills can carry off the feat of creating an entire world, similar to ours, but definitely not ours in the space most writers need to get the main characters introduced. There's a real sense of exhilaration in his writing. Every moment, every sentence leaps off a cliff, through a void to find new footing. Other have tried this before, and few have succeeded as fully as Mills does. Much of the credit has to go to his clean, clear prose, which shifts the reader into another realm as easily as the shift key can turn everything to caps.

But there's more going on than just good prose writing. Mills keeps his characters clear and in focus, and just enough off-kilter so as to seem accustomed to their own world (which seems quite weird to the reader), but not too ready for the changes in their own world (which are to the reader familiar permutations wrought upon an unfamiliar background). We share in the narrator's dismay at what he encounters because what he knows is easily known to us.

All this goes to say that Mills writes a very unusual style of fantasy. Distilled down to a few elements, Mills' world is nonetheless a whole and perfect creation. Yes, we're reading a fable with many easily identifiable origins, but we've got a great narrative voice and character to take us through the lesson. In the end, what we learn is ineffable. To Mills credit, the novel itself is shortest distance between the points he makes in 'Three to See the King'.