The first novel to win the World Fantasy Award was Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. It tells the story of Sybel, a beautiful young female wizard who has inherited a collection of magical animals and the power to summon and control them. She lives in the wilderness between two rival kingdoms and is drawn into the contest between them while their leaders try to woo her for her love and the power that her bestiary would add to their kingdoms.
Sybel is a really interesting character – a very powerful but aloof woman. She’s certainly more assertive and stronger than any female character I’ve seen so far in these readings. The center of the story seems to be her gradually developing feelings for others. Early in the novel, she is given a baby to raise, and she quickly comes to love it. Then, she must decide which man she shall marry, and if she really can love either. It’s a very well-realized and organic growth in a very lonely character.
The novel’s biggest drawback (to me, at least). is the prose. It's not bad, but it is rather stilted in imitation of the folkloric texts that it wants to mimic (and also in imitation of fantasy pioneer Tolkein). This is my biggest pet peeve in fantasy, though I do understand the intended effect, and it is done well here. Still, if you actually read medieval tales, the writing is much warmer, humorous, and more inventive than the affected wooden prose of the modern fantasy author.