I’m not much into nostalgia. Yes – I thoroughly enjoyed reading the likes of Tolkien, Clarke and Heinlein way back, whenever. But I don’t look back fondly on any particular era as a ‘golden time’ because I’m too busy wading through current books piled up beside my bed. However, I do enjoy dipping into the Fantasy Masterworks series as I’ve come across some cracking reads in the process – and this is one of them.
Sybel, the beautiful great-granddaughter of the wizard Heald, has grown up on Eld Mountain with only the fantastic beasts summoned there by wizardry as companions. She cares nothing for humans until, when she is sixteen, a baby is brought for her to raise. A baby who awakens emotions that she has never known before. He is Tamlorn, the only son of King Drede and inevitably, Sybel becomes entangled in the human world of love, war and revenge. There was a solid reason why Heald retreated from the affairs of mankind. Now Sybel has become embroiled in their plots, can her beasts save her from ultimate destruction?
For those of you who haven’t cut your teeth on Tolkein, the prose style will strike you as somewhat odd – while the rest of us will immediately recognise it as silmarillionese. I would urge you to persevere past the first few pages when it is particularly obtrusive if you do find it a problem; personally, it was like meeting up with a long-lost relation… But if you can grit your teeth at the start, I would hope that the story sweeps you up and takes you for a wonderful ride into a past when Fantasy didn’t mean conflicted vamps and weres prowling in search for blood, sex or both…
In amongst the high-flown prose and stately surroundings, McKillip gives us an interesting insight into the life of a wizard. An isolated, lonely life. A life spent constantly searching for power and ruthlessly snatching it as a defence against such similar attacks. Sybel’s character is interestingly complex and sympathetic and McKillip’s prose might be rich and textured, but that doesn’t stop her whisking the story along at suitably brisk pace.
Without sounding too much like a gushing blurb byte, this story is old fashioned fantasy at its very best… Oh – ok – I give up, I DO sound gushy. But in my defence, I opened the pages expecting to find an intriguing slice of 70’s fiction and instead was whisked away to a truly magical place to encounter beings and characters I’ll never trip over in Sainsburys if I live to be a hundred. This is unashamed magical escapism without a hint of self-conscious parody – the kind that over-aware modern authors could no more write than breathe fire.
It wasn’t a surprise to read that McKillip won the first World Fantasy Award for this book in 1975 – it’s a very worthy winner. And in my humble opinion, one that has more than stood the test of time. But don’t take my word for it, give yourself a treat and get hold of this enchanting book.