Thomas Burnett Swann is an author I discovered in the science fiction magazines of the 1960s. I liked his work, usually fantasy based on Greek myths, and followed it to his novels. I bought and enjoyed many of them, but there were a few I never found, either because I just missed them or because they were only issued in rare limited editions. Recently I found the ones I haven’t read are easily available now as ebooks, and I bought a few including this one. It’s the middle book of a trilogy about a minotaur and his friends, and I don’t recall the other two, but it works fine on its own. (They were written in reverse order anyway.)
In a remote forest on the island of Crete in pre-Christian times live a dwindling population of mythical creatures like the dryad Zoe and the last of the minotaurs, Eunostos as well as centaurs, bee-creatures and others. Though they have become isolated and surrounded by mundane humans, they continue their ancient ways as best they can. Eunostos is in love with a younger dryad named Kora, but he is shy and inept at courting her, and asks his friend Zoe, a much older dryad, for help. When Kora is captured by Saffron, a Bee-Queen, Eunostos and his friends rescue her, and in gratitude she accepts his advances. Then things change when a human prince of Crete, Aeacus, comes into the forest fleeing enemy warriors. He is reluctantly accepted by the inhabitants, and Kora falls in love with him. Eunostos is heartbroken but determined to remain her friend, even though Aeacus tries to keep the minotaur and Kora apart. What will happen when Aeacus and Kora have children? The court of King Minos of Crete has no heir, Aeacus’s son could be that heir, but Kora cannot leave her tree for long without dying.
I enjoyed this story and the writing. Swann has a gentle touch, but his characters are interesting and his plots engaging, if somewhat predictable. He was ahead of his time in promoting equal rights for all, and frank in his inclusion of sexual themes, though they were not explicit. His world has its tragedies, but generally it’s a pleasant place to visit, and informed by his scholarship. Recommended.