Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip (author), Dina Pearlman (narrator)

Audible Studios, January 2011 (original publication 1974)

Sybel is the daughter and granddaughter of wizards, and a wizard herself, continuing the family tradition of collecting strange and magical animals. She has not mixed with her neighbors much, or at all, and has no children.

Then a local, lesser lord, Coren, arrives at her gate carrying a baby boy. The baby is Tamlorn, the son of her mother's younger sister, and also of King Drede.

But Drede believes,with some reason it must be said, that Tamlorn is in fact the son of one of Coren's older brother, Norrell. Norrell and Rhianna are dead, killed by Drede. Coren asks her to love, protect, and raise Tamlorn.

Twelve years later, Coren comes back, wanting to take Tamlorn away, to help Coren's family overthrow Drede, take revenge for Norrell's death, and place Tamlorn on the throne. Tamlorn doesn't want to go, and Sybel sends Coren away.

But this makes Tamlorn curious about his father. When Drede arrives, having discovered that Tamlorn really is his son, and Rhianna and Norrell never had the chance to be alone together, Tamlorn wants to meet him. Ultimately, he decides he wants to go with Drede.

This is the point from which Sybel's life truly becomes complicated.

Up to this point, she has more or less replicated the lives of her father and grandfather, living in her tower, collecting and caring for her magical animals, studying magic. And raising one child. This is a point of some difference, in that Tamlorn is not a wizardling, and Sybel sought the help of a local witch woman, Maelga, which her father and grandfather never had, and they become, in effect, a family of three, rather than a family of two.

But now Tamlorn is gone to become Drede's heir.

And Coren and his brothers still want their revenge.

They have a plan. Drede also has a plan, based on his fear of having such a powerful wizard close by, and with an interest in his heir. And Sybel is determined not to be used.

When Drede pays another wizard, Mithrin, to eliminate the danger he sees in Sybel, while enabling him to keep her as his meek, contented, but still magically powerful wife, he unleashes something that will disrupt all their lives, as Sybel becomes a third party seeking revenge.

In many ways I'm describing the wrong things about this book. Sybel, Coren, Tamlorn, Maelga, and even Drede are all multilayered and interesting characters. Sybel's magical animals are not just living trophies, but powerful, opinionated, and often wise. The language is beautiful and rich, but never so ornate as to be a distraction. And the three major contenders here, Sybel, Coren, and Drede, all need to confront their fears in the most literal and terrifying way possible, if they are to survive and achieve their goals.

This is a wonderful book, and it's a joy to reread it after many years.

I bought this audiobook.