I first read this a very long time ago, and didn’t care for it. I wasn’t then the ardent fan of McKillip I later became, and I found the story slow and unfocused. Reading the story decades later, through older, wiser eyes, I concur with both those early judgments, but see beyond them to the beautiful prose that McKillip almost always brings along.
The story isn’t really about the forgotten beasts. They’re an interesting backdrop, but more decorative than crucial. And their captivity – peaceably enslaved by the mages, seemingly just for the sake of collection – gets very little attention. Instead, the story’s about Sybel and the disruption caused to her life. Here, the story is recognizably McKillip – the language is lush and dreamy, the characters unsure but interesting. The emotions in the book are less well balanced than in McKillip’s later books. That has its benefits – the story veers toward a darker side than we usually see – but also left me often with a feeling that the story was slightly off-kilter, and would have benefited from the author’s later experience with storytelling.
There’s also a somewhat disturbing disregard for secondary characters, whom the protagonists assign fates without a second thought. It’s a hero-centric approach that later books largely avoided. On the other hand, there are tantalizing references to riddles, and a Riddlemaster…
While not the best of McKillip’s books, it’s far better than my faded memory of it. Just approaching my teens, I suppose I was simply too young to appreciate McKillip’s fabulous prose, which even in this early book is well in evidence. It’s a beautifully written, if flawed, book in a long series of beautiful novels by McKillip.
I received a free copy of this
book in exchange for an honest review.