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, & 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.
#Historical, #Romance, 5 out of 5 (exceptional)
This is a really good book for the ‘between years’ reader and younger adolescents. Well, so says I, from the distance of my 60s and many years from having even the connection of children of such ages. I enjoyed delving into Cauldron’s fantasy adventure, with its traditional fight between generally righteous good and the forces of evil. The writing is exuberant, pacey, entertaining; surely a reflection of the author’s own joy in the telling. The plot is moved along without delaying information dumps, telling us just enough to paint the required pictures. I genuinely felt that Cauldron easily puts herself in young shoes.
This is the second in series, and though I haven’t read the first book I had no difficulties with the story or the interesting range of mainly adolescent major characters. The fantasy elements were a nice mix of stock-in trade fantasy and material original to the author’s mind. There is loads of potential for at very least the completing of a trilogy, with plenty of unanswered plot twists, without over-treading too many familiar paths. I see no reason why this shouldn’t build into a well followed, long series. I would have loved reading about Anya’s world as a child, and perhaps especially having it read to me as my interest in fantasy worlds lagged some way behind my reading ability.
The emphasis on a strong female heroine, sorry I’m old enough that I still struggle with the use of a non-gender specific hero, is very much the trend. That is a clear reflection of the empowerment of women throughout all the major strands of modern society and culture. Cauldron’s writing is very much of the ‘Queendom’, with the female protagonist balancing the best of, with the worst of gender. That is something of a relief, running as it does against the grain of so much modern writing, even though the negatives of gender are mainly in the form of the traditional wicked witch. I am very pleased to say that some of the boys are written with real individuality as well. In short, there is balance enough that young males will find characters to dream through rather than simply of. This is definitely a ‘Hermione Granger’ rather than a ‘Harry Potter’ story, however, Cauldron keeps a Rowlingesk balance in her Queendom. I’m sure that the greatest part of Rowling’s success is her ability to make all children, um- and grown-up child, feel that given another time and space that they could be a character in her fictitious worlds.
One thing I like about my vision of Anya is that she is ‘actually’ a realistic role model, if that makes any sense at all in a fantasy book. I mean of course, that she isn’t either impossibly beautiful or talented. She is just Anya, from the next house down the street, with typical parents, and a mixed range of friends. Wand and a bit of intuition aside, she is just one in a crowd, like just about any of us in the real world. She sometimes fails to measure up, gets her hands dirty, makes a fool of herself, fails to fit in; just like everyone else.
I will look out in the hope of reading a few reviews from the target audience, to see if Cauldron has hit the nail as well as I think she has. After all, it is children, not life-blunted old adults that are the best guide to the writing of young people’s fiction. This book perhaps needs a bit more editing in places, but yes, this is good storytelling of a fantasy kind.
What comes next out of the Cauldron?