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review 2017-04-25 05:05
A fitting conclusion to this great series
The High King: The Prydain Chronicles, Book 5 - James Langton,Lloyd Alexander

Arawn-Death-Lord has managed to get his hands on Dyrnwyn, Gwydion's sword, which has emboldened him to move his forces to launch an all-out assault on the Kingdom of Prydain. Gwydion and his allies move quickly to assemble the forces necessary to stand against him -- basically, it's an Armageddon-type situation, and all hands are needed.

 

Taran is sent to the Free Commots, where he spent so much time recently to gather their support -- and he does so, almost without trying to, becomes the leader of the assembled forces (such as they are) of the rather libertarian people. Before you know it, Taran's leading his band into battle at the side of Gwydion and the other warleaders. It's a stretch to believe, but at this point, you go with it. The forces marshaled against the High King are strong enough to make this an uphill battle, but when treason rears its ugly head and the forces of Prydain are divided against themselves, it really seems that all hope is lost. Eventually, Gwydion and his forces head off on a last-ditch effort to stop the Death Lord, while Taran, his companions, allies, followers and Glew take on a vital, but smaller task that will allow Gwydion's hail Mary to work.

 

And frankly, that whole treason storyline bugs me -- not just because it's evil, but because it's futile, stupid, and pointless. I think this was Alexander's biggest error in the series. It serves no real purpose but to stack the odds against the armies of Prydain.

 

Finally, we get final battles -- The Death Lord and his forces are defeated (spoiler, children's fantasy written in the 60's features good guys winning); the future of Prydain is settled; other Tolkien-esque things take place as is fitting in the conclusion to a fantasy series (actually, Tolkien was probably following the same older rules and tropes as Alexander, but we now associate them with Tolkien, not his predecessors).

 

Taran finally grows up into what Alexander's been holdig out for him all along -- it takes the whole novel, but it happens. Gwydion is probably the least interesting he's ever been here, which is a shame. Eilonwy? Oh, Eilonwy -- she's just so perfect (as a character, probably annoying in real life -- still, someone you want in your corner). I loved everything about her in this book. I wish Gurgi had a little more to do, and that Glew had far, far less. Fflewddur Fflam remains <b>the</b> unsung hero of this series -- the sacrifices he makes, the efforts he makes, his wisdom, etc., are all overshadowed by his comedic use. What he goes through moved me more this time through than any of the deaths. As an aside, the first time I saw a picture of Lloyd Alexander, I shouted -- Fflewddur! I don't know if it was intentional, or if I just had a strange imagination, but he looks exactly like a Fflam.

 

Oh, and there are many, many deaths -- mostly nameless soldiers on both sides, but there are quite a few named people, too. Some get great heroic moments, others are just named in a list of the fallen. I remember the first time I read this book being very upset by just one of them -- it was quite possibly the first time in my young life that anyone other than a dog, an ailing elderly person or a villain had died in a book I read. I still get sad when I read that particular one, but it doesn't get to me as much.

 

James Langton's performance here is consistent with what he's done for the last few books. If you liked him before, you'll like him now. If not . . .

 

I remember liking this more than I did, even just a few years ago when I read this with my kids. Still, a great way to wrap up this series -- Alexander ties up everything that needs tiring up, he rewards all the surviving characters in a fitting way and sends our heroes off on new adventures. There's still a bit of fun, a little adventure, and character growth throughout, with all things ending up just where they need to satisfy readers. It's really easy for adult-me to see where kid-me fell in love with the genre thanks to this series. Still, a fitting conclusion to this series -- which I still recommend for young and old (primarily the young).

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/04/24/the-high-king-audiobook-by-lloyd-alexander-james-langton
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review 2017-04-14 01:34
How many roads must Taran wander down before . . .
Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 4) - Lloyd Alexander,James Langton

The one question that's plagued Taran all his life is just who is he? Who is his family? Is there any chance at all that his family is some sort of nobility? This last question has taken on a new level of importance to him as he has realized that he's in love with a princess and can't do anything about it without that nobility.

 

Dallben can't answer the question for him -- but he allows Taran leave to go try to find the answer himself. I've never understood just how Taran can pull this off -- there's practically no birth records in Prydain (I can't imagine), it's not like he can get blood tests done -- and he doesn't really interview anyone, just meanders around.

 

Still, he visits various corners of the kingdom -- visiting friends old and new, dipping his toe in all sorts of trades and vocations. He renders aid, and gets aid. Fflewddur Fflam shows up and spends a good portion of the novel traveling with him (Gurgi remains a constant companion). There's a confrontation with a wizard, a regional armed conflict to try to settle, a mercenary band to deal with -- as well as other woes.

 

He learns a lot, he matures a lot, and maybe even gets a dose of wisdom. It's not your traditional fantasy novel by any sense, but it's a good one.

 

As for the audiobook? Everything I've said about the other books in the series -- Alexander's introduction and Langton's performance -- holds true for this one.

 

The most emotionally rich of the books, the most thoughtful -- particularly for those of the target age. Good, good stuff.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/04/13/taran-wanderer-audiobook-by-lloyd-alexander-james-langton
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review 2017-04-11 02:00
The Lightest of the Prydain Chronicles
The Castle of Llyr - Lloyd Alexander,James Langton

Taran is tasked with escorting Princess Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona, where she'll be taken in by distant relatives -- the king and queen, who will help her learn how to be a proper young lady (an idea she finds ridiculous). They sail there on a ship "captained" by the island's Prince Rhun.

 

Once they reach the island, Taran runs into Fflewddur Fflam, who's enjoying barding again -- even if the castle's steward, Magg, has an intense dislike of his music. Shortly after that, Taran discovers there's a threat to Eilonwy in the castle and tries to save her from it without letting her know she's in danger. That goes poorly and he joins the rescue effort instead (also led by Rhun -- or at least Rhun thinks so).

 

The companions also meet the world's littlest giant (why does that sound like it belongs more in The Phantom Tollbooth than here?) and a mountain cat that we'll get to spend a lot of time with. There's a lot of links to the first book as well as the last book in the series here.

 

The introduction by Alexander was great -- I wish I could hear more of his own takes on the books. Langton was solid. Again, I think he could talk a little faster -- but that's minor. His Prince Rhun's "Hullo"s are just what I've heard in my head all these decades.

 

This is probably the most entertaining of the lot -- there's some really good comedy here. Taran grows up a lot more here than he does in other books, I think, which adds something more than just entertainment to this book. It's possible that this is the one in the series I read the most as a kid. The story isn't as rich as I remember, but factoring in the growth in characters and the entertainment factor, the experience as a whole was pretty satisfying -- and I'll take that.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/04/10/the-castle-of-llyr-audiobook-by-lloyd-alexander-james-langton
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review 2017-03-28 02:52
The Saga Continues
The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 2) - Lloyd Alexander,James Langton

Of the five books in the Chronicles, this is probably my least favorite installment, still I enjoyed reliving it with this audio. Why Disney chose this one to make a movie out of, I'll never know (and have never seen).

 

Prince Gwydion has called a council at Cair Dalben -- bringing warriors, royalty and others from across the land to discuss something of urgency. Taran is included as well, thanks to the Prince's experience in the previous book. One of the attendees, Prince Ellidyr, is a young, proud twit who might as well have been named William Zabka -- if he doesn't remind you of the quintessential 80's movie antagonist, you're not reading him right. He and Taran clash immediately, and are predictably assigned to work together.

 

We also meet the son of Taliesin, the chief bard, Adaon. Adaon is one of those characters that comes out of nowhere, every character loves and so do the readers. He's wise, kind, and probably a decent fighter. Taran is possibly more taken with him as friend and role model than he was with Gwydion -- partially because he's not a prince, and so is more approachable; but also is just that kind of guy. Thankfully, Taran and he are also assigned to work together so it's not all about the jousting with Ellidyr.

There were other characters introduced -- several actually, but those two are the ones to focus on now. I'm not going to tell you anything about Gwystyl and Kaw, because I'll not do them justice. But you'll enjoy both. Gurgi was Gurgi, and Eilonwy was perfect -- seriously just perfect. I always liked the character, but maybe never as much as I am this time through the series.

 

I got distracted by talking about the characters, the purpose of the council is to go hunting for the Black Cauldron, the source of the Cauldron Born warriors of Arawn. These are basically zombies with swords, doing anything their master calls for -- and were the source of a good deal of apprehension when I was a kid, and now just seem like a great foe. Their numbers are swelling, making Dalben and Gwydion certain that something bad is on the horizon -- now seems like a good time to raid the Dark Lord's domain and destroy the Cauldon. Which may not derail the plans in motion, but will at least make them easier for the good guys to survive.

 

So after the Council, the heroes head out. As soon as they launch their strike, they discover that someone has beaten them to it -- the Cauldron is gone and they've got to regroup before hunting it down. Things go bad there, the companions are separated from each other and on the run from those the Cauldron has already produced.

 

Taran, Ellidyr, Adaon, Gurgi and Fflewddurr get a lead on the Cauldron and decide to follow it up immediately rather than let their foes get it while they're off looking for Gwydion. This takes them to the swamps of Morva -- one of my favorite places in the series -- and to the hut of Orddu, Orwen, &amp; Orgoch. They will chill younger readers and entertain readers of all ages. From there peril, betrayal, redemption, grief and more ensue as the companions try to destroy the titular MacGuffin.

 

The Lloyd Alexander introduction to this one was better than the previous -- I'm such a geek that listening to little bits of Alexander was one of the highlights of my day. I don't think I have anything to say about Langton's performance here that I didn't say last time. It was good, nothing spectacular, though. He kept me engaged, even if he paced it slower than I'd like. Whoever transferred this from audiotape to digital format had an odd approach to dead space between tapes/tape sides -- there are times that I feared the file had stopped unexpectedly, either from a corruption in the file or a glitch in the app, and just as I'd grab my phone to check the Langton's voice would start again.

 

A needed part of the story, if only for Taran's growth, and for what it sets up in books to come. It was never my favorite growing up, still isn't now, but it was still an entertaining few hours.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/03/27/the-black-cauldron-audiobook-by-lloyd-alexander-james-langton
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review 2017-03-22 02:13
A hunt for an escaped pig leads a hero into adventures
The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain, Book 1) - Lloyd Alexander,James Langton

I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned once or twice before here that The Chronicles of Prydain were the books that got me into fantasy. The Chronicles of Narnia made me a fan of Narnia, but really didn't carry over to anything outside of Narnia (at least until I got older and tried Mere Christianity). But Prydain got me appreciating the tropes, conventions and characters that'd get me into Brooks, Weis & Hickman, Eddings, etc., etc. Listening to the audiobooks seemed like a nice way to revisit the series.

 

Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper to Hen Wen (an oracular pig), dreams of glory to be found with a sword on the battlefield. His charge is frightened by something and escapes from her pen -- Taran chases after her, leaving the only part of Prydain he's ever known behind in the process. This hunt for the pig takes him to the far reaches of Prydain, where he encounters the son of the High King, Gwydion; Princess Eilonwy -- about his age, and a fantastic foil and friend for Taran; Fflewddurr Fflam, an unofficial bard; Gurgi -- some sort of simple-minded Sasquatch-like being; and others. Taran also encounters the forces of evil -- the Horned King; Archen the enchantress; and other minions of the Dark Lord Arawn.

 

The themes of true nobility, heroism and what it means to be a man are prevalent (and Alexander maybe gets a little didactic here) -- nothing I object to, just it seems a little thick by contemporary standards. Taran learns (for the first time) that there's as much honor to be found in doing your everyday work well as there is on the battlefield. It probably feels a little old-fashioned to many, but there's value here. Taran begins to mature here, but it takes (as I recall) all but the last 30 pages of the fifth book for it all to come together for him.

 

There's a little audio recording of Alexander before the book kicks off as an introduction -- that was pretty cool. Langton's narration was okay -- the narration was okay, maybe a little slow. His interpretation of Taran and Gwydion didn't do much for me (and actually made me realize how clunkily Alexander wrote their dialogue), but they slowly grew on me. I really couldn't find anything to like about Gurgi (one of my favorite characters ever). But I really liked everything else -- his Eilonwy and Fflewddurr were perfect and a lot of fun. He deserves kudos for his Hen Wen alone, really.

 

This isn't the greatest writing you'll encounter -- for the age group or genre. But it's effective, there's so much to appreciate here (and not just for nostalgia's sake). I remain a big fan of the series, and do appreciate the audiobook.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/03/21/the-book-of-three-audiobook-by-lloyd-alexander-james-langton
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