Patricia McKillip is one of those authors that I’ve always intended to read. I bought a used omnibus of her Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy during my first year of college, which was more than a decade ago. Yet for some reason, I’ve never quite gotten around to reading it, anything else by her. After having now read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, my interest in her work has been rekindled. This little standalone was a lovely reading experience. And as it referenced her Riddle-Master series multiple times, that series has climbed closer to the top of my TBR list.
“How much that name means to you—memory, knowledge, experience. There is not one possession more truly, irrevocably yours.”
As I’ve aged, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for quiet novels. Peter S. Beagle, Juliet Marrillier, and Robin McKinley all write fantasy stories that are subtle in just about every way, which could result in reader detachment when not properly handled. The action, the character development, the world building, the philosophy, and even the prose are all almost ethereal in a way when done well. These types of books remind me of pastel watercolors in a world of neons and jewel tones; not as showy, perhaps, but a moment of calm in the midst of a tempest. And that’s exactly how McKillip’s writing felt to me. There is something fairy-talesque about writing of this caliber paired with quiet storytelling, and it was really lovely to experience.
“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 in 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.”
Sybel is from a line of wizards who can draw mythical beasts to themselves by discovering their true names. She is happy in her solitude with only these beasts for company until a man shows up on her doorstep with a baby in his arms. After agreeing to raise the child, her life finds a new normalcy until the boy’s father comes looking for him. From there, Sybel’s life is turned upside down as she finds herself caught between powerful men who have grown to hate one another.
“I have fought for myself—and fought myself. But there is not joy in that. It is only when I am with you that I know, deep in me, how to laugh, and there is no one, no one who can teach me that but you.”
There is something really romantic about this story, even before any romantic involvement occurs. The lyrical writing mixed with the lovely setting definitely had something to do with it, as did the beasts themselves. I loved learning about the beasts in Sybel’s life, and how they had become just as attached to her as she had to them. But when the actual romance began to take root, the slow burn of it was enchanting. I also tend to love unexplained magic systems. These magic systems often involve the magic of true names, which I think is a really interesting similarity. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the giving of true names has been one of our callings since the creation of Adam, and I find the portrayal of that naming in fantasy novels fascinating.
“I have many people who know my name, but only one or two or three that know who it belongs to.”
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is as lovely as it is brief. As I said above, I’ve developed quite a deep appreciation for and fondness of fantasy authors who choose to tell bright, quiet stories instead of embracing the breakneck action and grim-darkness that so populate the genre. If you need a book that will help you take a deep breath in the midst of your feverishly-paced life, I heartily recommend a visit to Sybel’s world.