Sybil was raised on Eld mountain by her father. Her only company was the animals that her father called to the mountain. After her father died she maintained the animals and studied magic to become an unparalleled sorceress. She spends days upon days trying to call the one creature that she thinks can give her complete freedom, the creature called the Liralen. One day she is interrupted by someone at her gate; Coren wants her to take in and protect a baby named Tam. When Sybil accepts Tam into her mountain home she is drawn into a deadly conflict between two factions. Sybil struggles to remain separate from the world of men, but instead is drawn deep into it as Tam grows to manhood.
This book is a very deliberately paced book. It is beautifully written, in an older style but with lush description and very literature-like language. This is very much a traditional young adult fantasy. To be honest I had trouble getting through the first chapter which details Sybil’s lineage and how she comes to live on the mountain; I kept falling asleep. After I got past the first chapter however I found myself intrigued by what would happen to Sybil and Tam as they were drawn further and further into man’s conflicts. For such a simple story this book touches on many deep philosophies. It looks at living in isolation, the relationship to your mother and father, revenge, fear, peace, and love. The characters, especially Sybil, go through a tumultuous emotional growth throughout the story. The animals that Sybil “keeps” are delightful and represent aspects of human personalities; such as wisdom, fierceness, grace, direction.
This was a great read for children and adults alike. Despite some violence, it is definitely appropriate for younger children. I am always impressed with the beauty of McKillip’s writing. I will say her books always make you think and always end up wandering into some deeper aspects of human philosophy.