The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
by Patricia A. McKillip
Originally Published in 1974, re-releasing September 17, 2017
Goodreads: See here
Fantasy / Fable
Synopsis at a Glance:
Young Sybel, the heiress of powerful wizards, needs the company of no one outside her gates. In her exquisite stone mansion, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. Sybel only lacks the mysterious Liralen, which continues to elude her most powerful enchantments.
But when a soldier bearing an infant arrives, Sybel discovers that the world of man and magic is full of both love and deceit—and the possibility of more power than she can possibly imagine.
This year when I started book review blogging, I realized that I was reading an awful lot of brand new books that were garnering a lot of hype. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I decided along the way that when the opportunity presented itself I also wanted to better acquaint myself with older books.
Stories that had been around for a lot longer are often written in a different way than the books of today. There’s less focus on continuous action moving the plot, and in favor of more of a slow burn and lyrical prose.
In a lot of ways McKillip’s writing style reminded me of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice which I also read earlier this year. It’s lofty and ambitious, and while the prose sometimes feels a little like it’s meandering around descriptions and feelings, every word is purposefully chosen to deliver on the allegory of love and the unexpected places it takes a person. Aside from the comparison to Hobb, there’s also similarities shared with the old-style fairy tales, like the ones we might read as children. There are brief moments of darkness, but McKillip instead highlights all of the beauty and wonder of her world and it never stops feeling magical.
I can’t lie though, it certainly was a challenge at times. McKillip doesn’t serve every meaning to the reader on a silver platter. Instead, a lot is inferred during conversations or in the subtext. I think this is the type of story that I could read a dozen times over and pick something new out of it each time. There are also a lot of references to places, people and events in the world that the reader never sees. It all serves to make the setting feel more open and lived in, and while it can be overwhelming, fans of the fantasy genre will find a lot to love there.
As a parable about love and loss, motherhood and letting go, it truly is a wonderful read. A lot of fantasy novels become grounded in the fantastic. In the magical battles and swords and shields and plots for power. Those same topics are certainly brought up here, but they’re touched upon in an ancillary sort of way as Mckillip chooses to ground her novel in very human struggles instead.
It was a lovely take on fantasy, and in a lot of ways the story still feels timeless in spite of having first been published in 1974.
A lovely and beautifully written story.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ = 4/5 Stars!
What other classic fantasy have you read – published before the year 2000? What do you recommend?