Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander)

The Book of Three
(The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 1)
Lloyd Alexander
Square Fish
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Young Taran has lived his whole life in rustic Caer Dallben. He dreams of swords and adventures... yet is only allowed to weed the vegetable garden and forge horseshoes. The only interesting thing about the place is the white pig Hen Wen, but her oracular powers are sporadic, and only an enchanter like old Dallben could understand her anyway. Then, one day, Hen Wen panics and flees into the forest - and, having been jokingly anointed Assistant Pig-Keeper by the blacksmith Coll, Taran sets out after her. Soon, he finds himself caught up in an adventure more perilous than anything he could imagine, facing an enemy from beyond the gates of Death who would bring the whole realm of Prydain to ruin.

REVIEW: This is considered a classic fantasy, the start of an award-winning series. Drawing on similar inspirations as Tolkien, Alexander crafts a mythical land based loosely on ancient Wales, where Fair Folk lurk in an underground kingdom, magical artifacts lie scattered across the landscape, and heroic princes on noble steeds battle evil forces straight out of Hell. Unfortunately, to the modern eye, it reads a little predictably, not to mention dated. Taran has been taught almost no useful life skills by his guardians, not helped by his thick-headed attitude - only an Epic Adventure can teach him some semblance of smarts, though he does a fair share of blundering along the way. He and his companions all fall into neatly-worn genre molds which will be quite familiar to fans of Middle Earth, role-playing games, and other epic fantasies: the pretty young enchantress-in-training, the regal prince whose very bloodline elevates him above the strength and wits of ordinary men, the comic-relief demihuman sidekick, the wise elders who deliberately withhold vital information for Important Mystical Reasons, and so forth. Females are seriously underrepresented, an unfortunate failing that, even today, is a common genre issue. Still, despite its flaws, it moves quickly, and the characters, while often exaggerated stereotypes, are usually worth rooting for. Its short chapters fly by; I read the whole thing in under a day. Younger readers less familiar with the tropes of epic fantasy, perhaps those too young for The Hobbit, would probably enjoy it. As for me, I suppose I'm just too old and jaded for this kind of old-school fantasy... though I might be willing to read another book or two into the series. (I confess that I am confused why the book was named after the Book of Three; aside from cameos at the beginning and end, that particular magical item had very little to do with the story.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Merlin's Mistake (Robert Newman) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review
The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien) - My Review

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