Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Chronicles of Prydain

I finished the Chronicles of Prydain.  It's a nice children's fantasy set (well, children's in the sense of like for ages 10 and up).

The series consists of five books:
  1. The Book of Three
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Llyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King
I also have the supplemental book The Foundling and other Tails of Prydain which has eight short stories about the characters in the book and can be read after the main series.

Disney did make a movie version The Black Cauldron which is a movie version of the first two books but it is nothing like the book so if you didn't like the movie version, don't let it deter you from reading the books.  As with most movie adaptations, the book is better than the movie.

The Book of Three (3 stars) - We start in Caer Dallben, a small farming town, home of the enchanter Dallben, a farmer named Coll and the Assistant Pig Keeper, Taran.  The pig that Taran tends is an oracular pig named Hen Wen who suddenly runs away in fear and Taran chases after her.  He meets Gwydion and the two of them are captured by the evil Queen Achren and imprisoned.  Taran is freed by the Princess Elionwy, who is living at the castle.  She also frees Fflewdurr Fflam, a bard and minor king who she thought was Gwydion.  They travel away from the castle and are joined by a very annoying man/beast named Gurgi. 

It gets three stars because Gurgi and Elionwy are rather annoying.  However, they get less annoying as the books go along.

The Black Cauldron (3 stars) - Taran and his companions have returned to Caer Dallben after the events of the last book. However, Gwydion and several others visit for a meeting about The Black Cauldron. Arawn has been using this to create his army of Cauldron-born soldiers, soldiers made from the dead. Taran sets out with Adaon and Ellidyr. Ellidyr is very spiteful to Taran and has a and run-in with him in the first chapter. Gurgi and Eilonwy set off from Caer Dallben and catch up to Taran's party, despite orders to stay behind. Their plan ultimately fails because the Cauldron is no longer in Arawn's hands. They learn that it is a marsh that is home to three witches so they travel there to seek the Cauldron.

The plot of this is tight and keeps your attention the whole way through. Eilonwy and Gurgi are much less annoying than in the first book.

The Castle of Llyr  (4 stars) - After the events of the last book, Dallben decides it is time to send Elionwy to be raised properly as someone of her royal standing should be. Taran and Gurgi travel with her to the island of Mora. Taran discovers Gwydion, disguised as a shoemaker, who warns him that he and Elionwy are in great danger. The next morning, Elionwy disappears, captured by the head servant Magg. Taran, Gurgi and Fflewddur Fflam set off after her accompanied by Prince Rhun, who is clumsy and pretends to know more than he actually knows.

For some reason, I like this book better than the first two. Not to say that the first two books aren't great books, but the setting and feel of this book is different. I also like the encounters with Glew and Llyan.

Taran Wanderer (4 stars) - This book is a bit of an interlude. I remember when I first read this book in college, one of my friends told me that this was her favorite of the series. I like it as well.

This book is a quest to find oneself. Taran does not know who his parents are and sets off to seek that knowledge. He travels all over Prydain from the Marshes to the realm of King Smoit to the clutches of an evil sorcerer to a sheep herder's cottage until in learning trades, he finds himself.

The High King (4 stars) - This book is the conclusion to the Chronicles of Prydain series and like most high fantasy, ends with an epic battle.

The main characters of the first four books set off to rise up against the dark king Arawn. They are met with setbacks and betrayals almost immediately and several likeable characters die along the way. I don't want to say too much because that would just spoil the whole book.

There's a reason why this book won the Newbery. The first four books definitely set this up and this book is almost non stop action and is rather difficult to put down.

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