The Forgotten Beasts of Eld • 1974 • Fantasy novel by Patricia A. McKillip

Forgotten beasts of eld.jpg

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

Meta: isfdb, goodreads. It won the World Fantasy Award.

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20 Responses to The Forgotten Beasts of Eld • 1974 • Fantasy novel by Patricia A. McKillip

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Loved this series as a kid. Really need to get into her SF — Fool’s Run has been sitting on my shelf for more than a year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes this one was very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wakizashi33 says:

    This sounds really good. You’ve reminded me to get back to McKillip. Her prose is gorgeous and I appreciate that “playfulness” you mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeanne says:

    I loved this when I was 12 or so and the giant Grof lived in my imagination and colored other stories I read, like about Odin.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andreas says:

      You were lucky to have read SFF at that age. I didn’t know that this genre existed and that it would be mine when I was 12. Fairy tales, the Odyssey and the likes were it for me, which isn’t bad but not the real deal. Three years later and I stuck knee-deep in Dune and LotR.


  5. A fantasy tale told in 200 pages is quite a rarity these days, and I’ve been wanting to try this author for some time now, thanks to the positive reviews of some fellow bloggers, so this might indeed be one of the “candidates”… 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ola G says:

    I still need to read this one. Somehow I wasn’t convinced by McKillip Winter Rose, but I’m willing to give her books a second chance, they are generally well loved.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I read this story last year and enjoyed the experience, though at times I had the sense the story went over my head. I do love McKillip’s style!

    Liked by 1 person

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