The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: Welsh-inspired high fantasy
Updated: Jan 4
First book in the Chronicles of Prydain
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 8.5/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): small
Age level: 8 and up
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When the oracular pig Hen Wen goes missing from Caer Dallben, the Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran embarks on a journey to find her and keep her safe from the clutches of the evil Arawn Death-Lord and his minion, the Horned King. Along the way, Taran is joined by several other characters, including the noble Lord Gwydion, the bard Fflewddur Fflam, and the wild but loyal Gurgi; together, they will attempt to defeat the Horned King and his armies of Cauldron-Born (immortal, re-animated corpses of warriors). Set in the fantastic fictional realm of Prydain (which is heavily inspired by Welsh folk tales and mythology), this exciting tale is perfect for fans of fantasy classics such as Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.
The plot of The Book of Three is fairly basic (it is based on one of the most ancient plot styles, the “quest”), however, it is still well-developed for the book’s age range. (Older readers may find it a bit simple for their taste.) The conflict revolves primarily around the protagonists’ drive to find Hen Wen and defeat the Horned King, but Alexander introduces a secondary conflict as well: not only must the characters fight Arawn and his minions, but they must also combat Achren, Arawn’s erstwhile ally. With plenty of action, and a satisfying resolution at the end, the plot of The Book of Three is quite well-written and deserves a 9 out of 10.
One of the best parts of this book is its characters: Alexander seems to have a knack for creating characters that are not only believable, but amusing, endearing, noble, or selfless, depending on the character. Additionally, many characters have unique quirks or habits that make them some of the most personable characters I have yet to encounter. Take, for example, the character Gurgi, whose speech is sprinkled with rhyming words (“crunchings and munchings”, “mumblings and grumblings”, and “smackings and whackings,” just to name a few). Or consider the bard Fflewddur Fflam, whose harp bursts a string whenever he “stretches the truth” (which he does frequently). On the whole, the characters of The Book of Three are some of the most creatively developed and detailed characters among children’s literature, and deserve a 10 out of 10.
This book is not too difficult on the whole, since the style is fairly readable, and the overall plot is quite straightforward. However, on a few occasions, the dialogue does lapse into a slightly more archaic diction, that, while it fits with the whole “epic high fantasy” atmosphere of the book, could also be a bit tricky for some (especially younger) readers who might be unfamiliar with the style, which is about equivalent to (or a bit easier than) that found in The Lord of the Rings. Overall, this book should not be too much of a challenge for most readers, but those who are unfamiliar with or dislike the “old-fashioned” or archaic style of diction might want to consider waiting to read this book. (3/10)
Quality of writing
Alexander’s style is enjoyable and full of descriptive language, unique characters, and creative worldbuilding. That said, older readers may find his style a bit simple, as it is admittedly best suited to the 8-to-12 age range. However, that’s not to say that they can’t enjoy The Book of Three as well: its just that younger readers may enjoy the book’s style the most. The characters, as I mentioned before, are probably the best part of this book: they are personable and engaging (even for older readers) and really make the story “come to life.” Other aspects of Alexander’s writing are also commendable, though: his attention to detail throughout his fantasy world, as well as his clearly detailed research into Welsh folklore (from which come many of the characters, objects and places in the story) make this book a rewarding and interesting read. (8.5/10)
This book has no offensive language (on the contrary, the rhyming exclamations of the character Gurgi are quite amusing), and what “violent” scenes it contains are fairly non-graphic. True, there is one scene where the servants of Arawn are seen to be burning a group of men alive in wicker baskets—but the action is more implied than outright stated, and the scene is overall a minor one. Apart from that, several characters are wounded (but the descriptions are not vivid), a Cauldron-Born (immortal undead soldier) is stabbed in the heart (which does not affect it), and the Horned King (the villain) is melted by magical means. The Book of Three also contains some “scary” scenes (as one would expect from a book in which undead warriors (the Cauldron-Born) play a decently significant role): in addition to the Cauldron-Born, the reader also sees a tomb which is implied to be haunted and the cruel and evil Horned King. Overall, The Book of Three contains no language, only fairly mild violence, and some “scary” scenes.
This book has a readable (if archaic on occasion) style and a fairly straightforward plot. Additionally, it has no language and relatively little violence or “scariness”; on the whole, The Book of Three is recommended for readers from age 8 and up.