Elin’s mother is sentenced to death for failing to protect the Toda – fearsome serpents which form part of the kingdom’s army. Her final act is to send Elin to safety. Raised by a beekeeper who saves her life, Elin soon spies the flying beasts that guard her queen. After going to a school to learn how to care for these royal beasts, Elin discovers a talent and an ability to communicate with the creatures in a way that no one could ever have imagined.
The scale of the world-building in Nahoko Uehashi’s fantasy novel is immense, and at times can feel somewhat overwhelming. At over 500 pages, there is a lot of ground to cover, and I confess that I found parts of the story difficult to follow at times. However, the bond which the novel establishes between Elin and Leelan – the royal beast with whom she forms the strongest connection – is well developed and sensitively handled.
When Elin first sees one of the royal beasts soaring through the sky, the novel transports us to a different world, and this is what fantasy does at its best. It takes a great writer to conjure such a sense of the majestic through words alone. These beasts are magnificent, dangerous and awe-inspiring, standing with the best of what fantasy has to offer. Intelligent and ambitious, the novel is at its best when focused on the connection between Elin and Leelan, and is well worth a look for fantasy fans.