Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
Published: Atheneum, 1974
Awards Nominated: Mythopoeic Award
Awards Won: World Fantasy Award

The Book:

“The powerful, isolated young sorceress Sybel lives alone on a mountain with her animals, wondrous mythical creatures originally summoned over the years by her forefathers.  She is content to spend her life caring for these creatures and trying to summon more, until the day that a man named Coren brings an infant to her door--an infant that is her nephew and also the son of a king. Sybel agrees to care for the child and give it what it needs, which is most of all to be loved.

Through the growing child, Tamlorn, Sybel is once again connected to the world and its troubles.  Tamlorn is eager to know his father, King Drede, but Coren and his family oppose Drede for killing their brother, the late queen’s lover.  Sybel considers herself above all this squabbling, but it is difficult to escape the ties formed from love, fear, and hatred.” ~Allie

This is yet another audio commute book!  I thought this one worked very well as an audiobook, and I really liked the narrator, Dina Pearlman.  This is the second novel I’ve read by McKillip, and I have been enjoying how different her style is from the books I usually choose.

My Thoughts:

This was a fairly small story, focusing primarily on Tamlorn, Sybel, Coren and Drede. There were a variety of minor characters, including the mythical creatures, but it always seemed clear that the four main characters were the axes around which the story turned. This tight focus on a small set of characters, as well as the world of wizards, magical creatures, kings and hidden princes, made the story feel like a fairy tale. This atmosphere was enhanced by the simplicity of the language and dialogue, especially apparent in audio.  I found it completely charming, and often pretty funny.  Especially since I had just finished listening to the end of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, it was refreshing to listen to such a relatively light-toned and straightforward story, where most of the characters are trying to be good to one another.

Sybel herself was another reason I was so quickly drawn into the story, as I absolutely loved her personality.  She’s very powerful, intelligent, independent, isolated, and uninterested in politics, and she finds fulfillment in her animals and her magical studies.  I think she completely won me over when Coren brought her the infant, only to almost balk at giving it to her when it became hilariously clear she had no instinctive maternal feelings for the child.  Not that she was averse to acquiring a baby, she just didn’t see why raising it would be any different from caring for her other animals.  Sybel grows and changes through the story, as her love for Tam, among other things, draws her into the politics of the kingdom and into forming personal connections with other human beings.

Sybel’s growth explores various ideas, such as the relationship between love and control, the cost of revenge, and the value of connections with others. Sybel, like her forefathers before her, has the ability to summon humans and other creatures to her, whether they will it or not.  While she loves her animals, they are bound and controlled by her will.  At the beginning, Tam is an exception to this, as she loves him but never attempts to control the path of his life.  As Sybel is drawn into the more complex situation outside her home, she faces much more difficult interpersonal issues, such as the challenges of trust and the danger of a rage that can consume much more than its intended target. I loved seeing how Sybel coped and how her new experiences changed her.  I also enjoyed how everything ended up, and I’m very glad I chose to listen to The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld came up at the perfect time on my reading list, when its simple fairy-tale atmosphere was exactly what I wanted.  The story involves a hidden baby prince, of a king whose marriage was broken by infidelity.  Instead of focusing on the prince, though, it centers around his aunt--a powerful, isolated sorceress named Sybel--who takes him in and raises him.  I thought Sybel was fantastics, and I was delighted to follow her as she became unwillingly embroiled in the politics of the land.  The story involves the importance of interpersonal relationships, and the circumstances that lead people to attempt to control others.  The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was a short, delightful novel that I am glad I have finally read!  

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