Now, I'm sure you will prefer to buy Evangeline Walton in the complete set of Mabinogion Tetralogy and that's certainly your right, but I only read this book and this is the only one that I can talk about. I will be honest and say that it took me awhile to get into the style of the book. The chatter around the campfire and the set up seemed to go on forever. The talk of how this is a pre-Christian society that is only slowly adapting to the ways of marriage and men and women owning each other gave me some flashbacks to my college days when I read Starhawk and took her seriously. Furthermore, the hero seems to be cut out of the Thomas Covenant cloth of a thoroughly unlikeable character that is somehow supposed to convey the reader's desires and perspective. I found the prose too stylized for my taste. I don't mind stylized prose but I was having trouble figuring out what was going on because it was so dense.
Thankfully, my policy is to read a book for at least 50 pages before I put it aside. I rarely break that policy (except with garbage like The Da Vinci Code) and often I find that I didn't need to keep reading. But when there's an exception, I marvel at my inability to get the book at first. I kept going partially because it was based on an epic poem and mostly because it was a fantasy written by a woman in 1930 and I was curious. The book finally bore fruits around the end of the first section in which the protagonist Gwydion is punished for his pig stealing deeds (along with his rapist best friend - did I mention Thomas Covenant) and is transformed into a deer. And then a pig. ANd then a wolf. And only after three years is he allowed back into the tribe. At this point, I realized that I wasn't dealing with the kind of fantasy that Tolkien imposed upon the world full of elves and magic rings and quests and bravery. I was reading a serious fantasy book that kept the human relationships first and foremost.
The next section with Arianrhod - the "virgin" sister that Gwydion seduces in order to have children - really made me love the book. I found myself no longer bothered by the prose which has a lot of philosophical asides and internal monologues. The battle between Arianrhod and Gwydion is both fantastic (these are epic characters from an epic poem after all) and grounded in real human emotions. Arianrhod is the villain of the piece but she's closer to a Betty Draper or Livia Soprano than a Morgan Le Fay. She is truly hurt by the actions of her brother and she has no way of expressing her anger and pain than to lash out at the child that he forced her to have (and brought to bear through magic). She is the prototypical abusive mother - a creature that classic essentialist feminism claimed not to exist because women were "naturally" more caring and supportive - possibly because she's expected to be that kind of nurturing type and she doesn't have the capacity for love or even growth. Gwydion does have the capacity for love and growth but he still must get by through trickery. And in their fight over the son - which involves curses and loopholes - one would think that Gwydion could save himself a heap of trouble if he would only stop rubbing his little victories in Arianrhod's face. Yet, these are two people who can't communicate as adults and must fight like Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's characters in The Break-Up (Widescreen Edition) even if they still love each other. Especially because they still love each other.
This is a brilliant book about human relationships and complex emotions. It's a pity that fantasy writers would rip off Tolkien for so long instead of Walton, because I would have loved to have seen this kind of material when I was younger and contenting myself with The Sword of Shannara Trilogy.
I know the Mabinogion (in English) so it was fun to read this novelized version. The characters were more like people with their virtues & faults. The book itself was well-wrapped against the elements & in fine condition. Unfortunately, this wasn't as well proofread as the others, & contains misprints/mis-spellings.
This ranks with Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" as one of the best fantasies ever written, I think. As that was, this too is a great work of fiction. It is an actual retelling the diverse legends of the Mabinogion (Welsh myth) in novel form. Walton, like all great writers, deals with the larger issues of Good, Evil, Love, all the while unraveling one terrific yarn . Written in 1936, she was still alive in Tucson in 1993. About druids and their magical powers, this is a monumental tragedy in the vein of Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth. Elegantly written, rich with the power of Welsh myth, an absolutely spellbinding story - of love, ambition, betrayal. Formerly titled "The Virgin and the Swine"; current title refers to England. I was so sorry to have finished it, and must reread it someday. If you like Tolkien, don't miss this one!
How sad that Walton's been forgotten after her moment of fame. Her tetralogy is one of the finest fantasy series in existence if not... just now... in print. The Island of the Mighty is the concluding volume and extremely episodic. The connecting thread is Gwydion, the Welsh prince/wizard/bard who appears in all three "episodes." Walton weaves them together better than the originals.
This is definitely NOT the place to begin, if you are interested in Walton or Celtic legends. The best of the series is Song of Rhiannon. Walton's wonderfully understated feminism and paganism anticipate Bradley's pre-emption of the topic in Mists of Avalon.