It has been a good while since I read an immersive fantasy with dragons. But The Forgotten Beasts of Eld hit the sweet spot. Not only does it have some imaginative animal companions, but the main character, Sybel, is enigmatic and her character growth is sorely needed within fantasy.
Sybel is just one more in the line of powerful wizards who dwell on Eld Mountain. Like those before her, she has a menagerie full of magical creatures bound to her will and who are the beasts of fairytales. She has clever talking boars, compassionate swans, a gold hungry dragon, and many more. But one day her whole world is turned upside down when a soldier arrives at her gates bringing with him a child. And with this one intrusion, Sybel’s entire life will change, for both the better and worse.
This was first published in 1974 and, in many ways, I think so many themes echo for today’s readers. We need more characters like Sybel, even today. More woman who walk the line between power and desire, between the light and dark. We need women who are strong of heart, powerful, and unwilling to bend. And at the same time, we need women who experience all the joys and sadness of love, and who must fight to keep their hearts open. Perhaps McKillip is one of those hidden gems of fantasy, but I’ll have to keep any eye on her other books too. I wish I had read this book when I was younger, full swing in my fantasy binge.
Sybel’s character growth from an isolated wizard, to loving mother figure, to wounded woman is absolutely fantastic. While I had trouble connecting to Sybel at the beginning, I think this is largely because Sybel has trouble connecting, in the story, with anyone. Raised mostly in isolation with her magical, and dangerous, companions, she struggles to show emotions. However, as the story progressed, I felt fortunate to be able to watch Sybel unfurl before my eyes – to watch her feel the possessiveness of love, the pain of loss, and the recognition that vengeance has a way of turning on oneself.
Her growth is indicative of the powerful themes within this book. Two main themes I want to focus on are love and vengeance (also the ways in which they are intertwined). The power of love can not only to brighten your life, but to also darken it. This could happen because of loss, betrayal, or death. Many characters in the book have to deal with this duality between love and they react in different ways: bitterness and distrustfulness, openness, and the use of love for revenge.
At the same time, the theme of vengeance is huge, not only because it is one of the consequences of this loss, but because it occupies our heart so completely. When we allow lust for revenge to pollute our heart, it ends up hollowing us out. And at one point we have to choose, to blindly search for revenge or to allow love to heal us – knowing full well its dangers. In many ways, a heart bent on vengeance has no room for true love, as revenge is a possessive lover. Furthermore, a path of payback is littered with violence, the type that only breeds misery and anger.
There were many other amazing themes, such as the danger of fear and ignorance, when people are turned into weapons (a theme Carriger talks about in her foreword), and the danger of having power over beings. And of course we have an immersive world with gold loving dragons, wise talking boars, and the wars, and wrongdoings, of mankind.
In many ways, this is a book about freedom: the desire to have agency over our own lives, to be free from revenge, to love freely without consequences or strings attached, and to be free to roam the earth for gold. Told from the perspective of a charming, and relatable protagonist, full of magical creatures and tales, this book will leave you a far better person than before. We cannot let our past scars keep our hearts in chains, and, in some ways, we are the biggest enemy to our own freedom.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
Favorite fantasy woman, go! Don’t over think it
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