Loving and hating

Mount Hood reflected in Mirror Lake, Oregon

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
by Patricia McKillip,
Introduction by Pat Cadigan (2015).
Fantasy Masterworks,
Gollancz 2014 (1974).

For a novel written in her early twenties, Patricia McKillip’s award-winning fantasy is extraordinarily nuanced, with well-developed characters to the fore and the magical aspects only playing a supportive role. For this is a story of primal human emotions, of love and hate, of self-knowledge and fear, where even the ‘forgotten beasts’ of the title have human feelings. And individual wants and needs decide outcomes that affect many, whether for good or bad, in a world created from memories and echoes of ancient myths, legends and lore.

Sybel is the descendant of a line of wizards, from Heald through Myk and Ogam. Her particular skill is ‘calling’, drawing beasts and humans to her and subtly bending their will to hers. This is a dangerous power to wield, and one that demands great responsibility; when we see her, either aged 16 or 28, it is a talent the ethics of with she still has to wrestle with.

In her mountain fastness within Eldwold, with her beasts around her, she can pretty much please herself, calling for another legendary beast and studying her library of magical books. But when the outside world comes calling in the form of a young warrior bearing a child, she has to balance her own desires with the reasonable and unreasonable demands of politics and power.

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