Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)
Though McKillip’s early novel has become a classic of fairy-tale-flavored fiction, a favorite genre of mine, I’ve somehow managed not to read it until now. I’m so glad I finally did, thanks to a new, beautifully designed paperback and e-book edition from Tachyon books. This is a lyrical, thoughtful exploration of love and power, pride and forgiveness and freedom, rich with evocative imagery and resonant language. I’ve already read it twice in a row, and I’m sure I’ll be returning to it again.
Daughter and heir of wizards, silver-haired Sybel lives on a mountaintop alone but for the magical beasts she’s captured with her powers. When a baby is brought to her to raise and love, then taken from her again as a boy, it draws her into the political machinations of the lands below. How she learns to find her own true strength is a tale that takes us deep into the secrets of the human heart, and out again into the dangerous, enchanting world.
I could say more, but I think it’s best to let McKillip speak for herself; a taste of her prose will quickly tell you whether this is a book for you.
“You are a strange child . . . so fearless and so powerful to hold such great, lordly beasts. I wonder you are not lonely sometimes.”
“Why should I be? I have many things to talk to. My father never spoke much—I learned silence from him, silence of the mind that is like clear, still water, in which nothing is hidden. That is the first thing he taught me, for if you cannot be so silent, you will not hear the answer when you call.”
“You can weave your life so long — only so long, and then a thing in the world out of your control will tug at one vital thread and leave you patternless and subdued.”
“What do you think love is- a thing to startle from the heart like a bird at every shout or blow? You can fly from me, high as you choose into your darkness, but you will see me always beneath you, no matter how far away, with my face turned to you. My heart is in your heart. I gave it to you with my name that night and you are its guardian, to treasure it, or let it whither and die. I do not understand you. I am angry with you. I am hurt and helpless, but nothing will fill the ache of the hollowness in me where your name would echo if I lost you.”
Though it has no external connection to Arthurian legend, there are thematic resonances in this tale of love lost and betrayed, of powerful, magical women, of the double-edged sword of passion and revenge. So I’m very excited that thanks to Tachyon, I’m able to offer a giveaway of this lovely book during Witch Week: Dreams of Arthur, taking place from October 31 to November 6 — plus another one of their new publications.
Which one? Come back on October 1 for more news about that, and the rest of the week.