Synopsis: Sybel is a sixteen-year-old sorceress “beautiful as moonlit ice“, living alone in the mountains of Eld together with her mythical beasts her father had summoned: Boar Cyrin, Dragon Gyld, the Black Swan of Terleth, Lyon Gules, Cat Moriah and Falcon Ter. The creatures are very fond of her and can converse with her telepathically. The only one missing in her menagerie is the magical white bird Liralen
One day, prince Coren of Sirle disrupts her and brings her a newborn to care for. Coren believes that it is the heir of his sworn enemy Drede, king of Eldwold. Sybel names him Tamlorn and raises him up with the help of witch Maelga living nearby.
Twelve years later, Sybel gives Tamlorn reluctantly to king Drede, causing a depression. She returns to seeking the Liralen. But her summons are answered by dreadful Blammor.
Sybel’s journey continues with giving in to marry Coren, escaping an evil wizard calling her by her true name and threatening to take away her free will, and finally starting a war with Drede.
Review: This is not your typical fairy tale building up a straight plot and ending in a happily ever after. While retaining the lyrical and dreamlike style of fairy tales, it adds many twists and deeper thoughts which will stay with me for quite a while after closing this very short novel.
McKillip packs everything into the narration that a fantasy lover is longing for: there is the evil sorcerer applying chilling spells; the strange beasts, including a dragon and a dreadful mysterious shadow creature; a marvelous, three-dimensional and relatable heroine. Adventures, twisting suspense, and a romance done right, ending in an unexpected resolution.
Some readers will notice that it’s not a tight third person narration but keeping distance from the protagonists, just like many other mythopoetical authors did in Tolkien’s tradition. Maybe that’s why I loved it even more.
The author applies a dense, gorgeous style and manages to stuff these 200 pages full of action which other authors need four times as many in their overwritten, derivative tomes to achieve the same result. There is not only Sybel’s twisting quest, but also many hints of forgotten legends mentioned just as a side-note like
the giant Grof was hit in one eye by a stone, and that eye turned inward so that it looked into his mind, and he died of what he saw there
I loved McKillip’s often playful, humorous narration and can only recommend it to readers who don’t absolutely need a thousand pages to get into a story. In many respects, it reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, and I cannot possibly give a higher praise.