Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Song of Rhiannon

Evangeline Walton
Completed 3/14/2022, Reviewed 3/15/2022
4 stars

This book completes my reading of the Mythopoeic Award winners.  It won in 1973.  It’s the third branch of the Mabinogion Tetralogy.  It begins with a tale that is actually a part of the first branch in the original epic.  Then it jumps ahead to the time shortly after The Children of Llyr.  It’s about the only survivors of the royal family of Dyved after the great war with Ireland and their interaction with the Fae.  It’s not as dark and intense as the second branch, but still, any dealing with the Fae does not a happy book make.  I liked this book a lot even though the middle dragged a bit.

The book begins with the story of the birth of Pryderi, the son of Prwyll (from The Prince of Annwn).  After the formerly enchanted Rhiannon gives birth to him, he is snatched by some evil force.  Rhiannon’s guardian ladies who had fallen asleep rather than keeping watch make up a story that Rhiannon killed and ate her son.  Because she is fae, the people mistrust her and the Druids don’t like her and so believe this wild story.  She suffers punishment until Pryderi is snatched back from the other realm.  The story jumps ahead to when Manawydan, the brother of Bran the Blessed returns to Dyved with Pryderi after the great war with Ireland.  Pryderi reunites with his love Kigva.  He offers his mother Rhiannon to Manawydan, as Prwyll is long dead.  The two couples more or less live happily for a time.  Then Pryderi makes a decision that wipes out Dyved.  The four are the only remaining people and must figure out a way to survive and eventually find a way to restore their country.

The interaction of the main characters is what makes this book.  Despite the dialogue being wooden in parts, I really got attached to the four of them.  Again, like in the previous books, the writing is readable, but rather old fashioned.  So it would follow that the dialogue would be a little wanting. But all the characters were pretty well-rounded.  I especially liked the treatment of Rhiannon.  She has some essence of the goddess in her.  She is strong, opinionated, and will fight for what she believes in.  Her relationship with Manawydan is one of equals, reflecting the matriarchal society of the Old Tribes.  I like that this branch is named after her.  However, she isn’t the star of the story, it’s Manawydan.  The narration primarily follows him and his trials and tribulations with the forces of Fae.  

Unlike many series, I’ve been enjoying reading these books in succession.  The world building is pretty great, and by this third branch, it feels complete.  This book could be read as a standalone, but I think a lot would be missed because of the building of the world over the previous branches.  I also liked that Walton chose to move the story of Pryderi’s birth, kidnapping, and recovery to this branch.  It helps give a good perspective of the relationships between Rhiannon, Pryderi, and Manawydan.  

I give this book four stars out of five, despite it dragging somewhat in the middle.  After Dyved is destroyed, the little family of four move from town to town trying to survive.  Over and over, they create a business, make lots of money, and then nearly get killed by the jealous competitors.  It was repetitious, but I thought it added insight into the characters.  I’ve already begun reading the fourth branch, which I believe is divided into three parts and is the longest of the branches.  I’ve got about a week left to read it, as this is a library ebook that I can’t renew since there are holds on it.  So I better get on it.  

Oh yeah, and this is the Rhiannon that Stevie Nicks wrote about for Fleetwood Mac.  However, I’ve read somewhere that the naming was a coincidence and she hadn’t read any of these books before writing the song.  Since this info come from the internet, I’m not sure which is apocryphal and which is truth.  Maybe some hardcore Steve Nicks fan out there knows the true story.  

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