The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
by Patricia A. McKillip
This was Patricia McKillip's first book, and its status has grown over time to the point that it was reprinted in 2017 so I could borrow it from the library. I was curious to see what the fuss was about.
Our main character is Sybel. The first four or five pages outline her bloodline, her heritage, and the skills that come with it in a style that seems almost biblical or possibly in the oral tradition, as in "and then Ogam begat Sybel" - although McKillip had the sense to not use the word "begat." Sybel, and her father and grandfather before her, have gathered a group of extraordinary creatures to them in the mountains of the land of Eld. Sybel had no mother (died in childbirth?), and not much of a father - but she has a bunch of intelligent, powerful animals for companionship and has incredible power herself. And then ... someone drops in and says "here, this baby is your cousin's son, take care of it" - and leaves.
The child turns out to be politically important in the land below Sybel's mountain - a land she knows nothing about. And trying to do the right thing for him leads her into politics, hatred, and revenge.
I didn't love the prose: it wasn't terrible, but it often felt somewhat stilted. To McKillip's credit, I anticipated very few of the plot elements. That's a good thing: when I can't guess what's coming but it still makes sense afterward. And at the end, with the whole thing on track to be some horrible revenge tale, she managed to derail it all with something almost resembling elegance. But between the slightly awkward prose and the somewhat odd subject matter, I didn't fall in love - I don't get that this is the kind of classic that needs to be reprinted forty years on. I don't have to "get it" if others enjoy it, but it isn't one I'd wish to return to and re-read.