Title: The Chronicles of Prydain
Author: Lloyd Alexander
What it's about: Yes, I'm cheating and putting the five book series into one entry. But anyway, it's the story of a young man named Taran who lives in a land based on Wales that's being menaced by this evil guy named Arawn. Taran gets roped up into adventures, and despite being a bit of an idiot, his resolve and good heart serve him well in befriending new companions and learning about himself and what it means to be a hero, as well as in saving Prydain. The series is made up of five books: The Book of Three, wherein we're introduced to Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, among others. The Black Cauldron, which is probably the most well-known of the five, since Disney made an animated feature based on it, has the companions reuniting to find and destroy the titular artifact so it can't be used to make undead soldiers. The Castle of Llyr comes next, and it deals with saving Eilonwy and also starts to emphasize the feelings between her and Taran. In Taran Wanderer, the plot a bit different, with Taran looking to learn about his heritage instead of going off to defeat some evil guy, but book five, The High King, returns to that formula for a very epic conclusion to the saga. Full of allies coming together, battles with high stakes and the first instances in the entire series of characters other than Taran having viewpoint sections, and highlighting the growth of Taran and the other characters, this book presents an exciting, satisfying conclusion to a wonderful fantasy series.
What I thought: Much better than I'd dared to hope it would be, this series charmed me from the beginning and then grew on me from there. Taran starts out as your typical impulsive idiot hero, but he's got his moments of clarity, and you can see how he makes up for his lack of common sense with plenty of heart and determination. Eilonwy is an interesting character as well, an action girl who's also a bit of... well, airhead and ditz seem a little strong, but she's definitely a chatterbox, and while most of the time she's the voice of reason for Taran, she has her moments. But that all just serves to make her more unique and likable. Gurgi and Fflewddur both took a little longer to grow on me, but both the loyal forest creature and the garrulous bard found places in my heart as the books passed. I liked how the series progressed, with the first two books establishing characters and conflicts, and then the next one developing side conflicts and showing character growth in an alternate environment. And then the fourth book was quite different from the previous three, focusing more on Taran's spiritual journey than anything else, but it still managed to be entertaining. And the final book was a perfect, gripping conclusion to this series, with plenty of excitement and emotion. I'm already looking forward to when these books aren't so fresh in my head so I can read them all again.
Overall: Wonderful classics.