Saturday, 1 July 2017

Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought I'd read this before, but I didn't remember it once I got into it, and I would have remembered a book like this. I think I'd just heard about it so often that I assumed I'd read it, particularly since I love the author's other work.

McKillip writes with a magnificent complexity and depth, in the mythopoeic style championed by Tolkien. Lest we be fooled by the commercial epic fantasy of the 1970s and 1980s into thinking that Tolkien was all about armies and orcs and a quirky mixed group on a quest, this book reminds us that there was another, deeper layer to his work, which few subsequent authors have the skills to emulate. It's poetic, without ever trying too hard for beauty for its own sake; it's mythic, while also being anchored in the reality of human psychology; it's epic, without depicting a single battle on stage (though a battle forms an important part of the backstory).

Love, revenge, betrayal and jealousy weave powerfully through the plot, as do wisdom and self-understanding. (view spoiler)

The central characters are magnificent, grand, and wholehearted. The setting is vivid, rich, and magical. The beasts of the title are worthy to stand beside the great dragons, lions, cats, swans, and boars of myth and legend.

A couple of quotations, to give you the flavour:

"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 wither and die. I do not understand you. I am angry with you. I am hurt and helpless, but nothing would fill the ache of the hollowness in me where your name would echo if I lost you."

"I have many people who know my name, but only one or two or three that know who it belongs to."

The wisdom at the heart of this book is that, in caring for others, we come to understand ourselves; and the person who comes to this insight most clearly is not the young boy, but the magically powerful middle-aged woman. It's a landmark work in the fantasy field, and I'm glad it's being reissued in ebook, and that I had the chance to read it through Netgalley for this review.

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