01/10/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus
The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip (Fantasy Masterworks # 48). pub: Gollancz. 199 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07765-4.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
This book is beautiful. I say this not in a soppy over-bearing romantic way but in a way that highlights just how brilliantly structured and eloquent the prose is. Every sentence seems to have been sculpted, every word chosen to highlight in the most amazing way whatever it is that Patricia McKillip wants to highlight. For example:-
One evening, twelve years after Coren had brought Tamlorn to her, Sybel went to the cold, deep cave Myk had built for Gyld the dragon. It lay behind a ribbon of water, and trees about it grew huge and still as the pillars vaulting a chamber of silence. She stepped over three rocks to the falls, then slipped behind it, the water running across her face like tears. Within, the cave was dark and wet as the heart of a mountain; Gyld’s green eyes glowed in it like jewels. The great folded bulk of him formed a shadow against the deeper shadow. Sybel stood still before him, like a pale flame in the dark. She looked into the unblinking eyes.
The story follows the wizard Sybel, a young woman who has been brought up in isolation atop Eld mountain, the highest point in Eldwold. Being the great-granddaughter of the wizard Heald, she has grown up a powerful and amazing wizard, both acquiring and surpassing her grandfather’s abilities. But although she lives apart from humanity, she does not live alone. Through her magic, she has assembled the great beasts of lore and befriended them. She has Cyrin, the boar who is a master of riddles; Moriah, the great big black cat; Gules Lyon, a sparkling lion who is known to coax men into adventures; the Black Swan of Tirlith; Gyld the dragon and Ter the falcon.
Through her seclusion, Sybel has no knowledge of the politics of men, so when young noble Coren comes to her with a child for her to raise, she is both sceptical and bewildered. The child, which is her nephew and the son of the king, becomes the most important part in Sybel’s retinue as she raises him until he is old enough to make his own decisions.
Throughout the novel, there is an undertone of darkness, hidden behind the fairy-like prose and amongst the beauty of Eldwold. It seems to echo or, more likely, mock the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet as Coren and Sybel seem destined to be pulled apart through the acts of others and more importantly their own overpowering hatred for the king.
As part of the coveted and respected Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, ‘The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld’ is in league with the likes of ‘The Book Of New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe, ‘Lud In The Mist’ by Hope Mirrlees and the ‘Viriconium’ sequence by M. John Harrison. The plot itself is strong and watertight intertwining the themes of revenge, family, love and war to make a satisfying read that leaves a warm fuzzy feeling. It is a work that shows what fantasy is capable of.
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