"The Forgotten Beasts of Eld," Patricia McKillip

Pros: Love, magic, and a curious tale
Cons: Unpolished characters and dialogue; a little slow; perhaps a bit melodramatic at times
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

First published 12/30/2002

A long time ago, a wizard named Myk journeyed to Eld mountain. There he settled in the wilderness and used his gifts to collect legendary animals. He called them to him–the Black Swan of Tirlith, the boar Cyrin, and the dragon Gyld. Eventually his son continued his work, calling the Lyon Gules, the black cat Moriah, and the falcon Ter. He also called to him the oldest daughter of the Lord Horst of Hilt, and she bore him a daughter, Sybel, before dying. Sybel’s passion was the Liralen, and she spent years trying to call the great white swan. She stepped into the libraries of other wizards and stole their books, trying to find the key that would enable her to call the swan.

Then, when she was 16 years old, a man came to her white-walled halls. Coren of Sirle brought her a baby boy, Tamlorn, her cousin on her mother’s side, and asked her to protect the boy, who was a king’s son. Reluctantly she agreed.

Thus began the chain of events that would pull Sybel from the safety and solitude of her halls and thrust her into the world of politics and war. She is powerful, and that power is valuable to others, who would manipulate, use, and destroy her and Tam. And all the creatures of legend and lore may not be able to save her–from her own rage and hatred, and her need for revenge.

An Old Favorite

I first read this book years ago, when I was in junior high. It was the mid-eighties, I think. Patricia McKillip’s “Forgotten Beasts of Eld” is one of the very few books that have survived the many cullings that accompanied my various moves from apartment to apartment; I could never bring myself to part with it. I only rarely re-read books. It’s just that there are so many interesting books to read out there, and so little time to read them in. When forced to choose between a new and unknown book, and something I’m familiar with, I’ll choose the new book almost every time. But this week I decided it was time to re-read an old favorite. And so here I am, reviewing “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.”

Understanding

In my memory this was a perfect book, and so I was a little afraid to read it again. I know a lot more about writing now than I did then, and I’m a more discerning reader. Would the book withstand my higher standards? Or would it crumble and fall? The answer is, a bit of both.

I’ve found that McKillip’s newer books (“Ombria in Shadow” and “Winter Rose,” for example) have a very enchanting, fairy-tale feel to them. “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” projects a younger, less well-developed, yet similar feel, and it certainly swept me up in the events of the book. The pacing wasn’t as well-timed (the book was a bit slow and meandering in places), but the book never lost me. The story is predictable in some places, yet refreshingly surprising in others.

The characters in this book were also less well-developed than those of later books. I came to care about and sympathize with them, but they were less well-defined. I’m not sure if this will make sense, but there was less of a sense of age about them–almost all of them seemed to occupy the same young space. Their dialogue was a little less riveting and more rambling. And finally, the tone was mildly melodramatic in places.

Yet despite all this, the book caught me up again almost as strongly as it did 15 or so years ago. The nascent feeling of enchantment tugged at my heart and made it easy to forgive the book’s flaws. It is clear that Patricia McKillip has improved her skills greatly since the first publication date of this book (copyright 1974, if you’re curious!), yet it is also clear that she began with a formidable talent. “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” may not be her best work, but it is well worth reading for anyone who already enjoys her books. Yes, it has flaws. But it still weaves a spell around my heart.

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Posted in Reviews
One comment on “"The Forgotten Beasts of Eld," Patricia McKillip
  1. Martin LaBar says:

    You are probably right on with this, and it’s a little disappointing, but Forgotten Beasts probably examines vengeance as well as any fictional book.

    I need to read it again.

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