I hate it when I re-read a book and discover that it’s not as good as I remember. Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld absolutely enthralled me when I first read it—I distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table in my D.C. apartment during a college internship and being dimly aware of my roommates coming and going, but being unable to stop reading to say hello or move somewhere more comfortable. I re-read it recently when I was thinking about post-Tolkien fantasy with beautiful prose.
Sybel is a wizard and the daughter of wizards who have buit a menagerie of fantastic animals by calling them—summoning them by name and binding their wills. Her only desire is to call the Liralen, a great white bird with trailing wings: until Coren, one of the Lords of Sirle, comes to her gate with an infant, her cousin and a pawn in the struggle between Sirle and the King of Eldwold. The story is about power, revenge, and what one will, won’t, and should do for love.
The prose is exquisite, the characters sympathetic, the moral and emotional dilemmas gripping, and the magic numinous. But on this re-read, two things bothered me. The first was small: “Blammor” is a terrible name, especially for a thing of dread and terror. The second, alas, is large: the very ending struck me as an unnoticed undercutting or contradiction of what I took to be the moral force of the entire story. As a result, I’m not sure I can recommend this book any more, which is too bad, because it had been the one novel of McKillip’s that I really liked.
Perhaps I should re-read the Riddlemaster series and see if it makes any sense to me now.