Review: The High King

The High King is the fifth and final installment of The Chronicles of Prydain. Because so much of what makes this book awesome is toward the end, this review is full of spoilers. The High King is a Newbury Medal winner, one of the highest marks of excellence in children’s literature. It is deserving of this honor, but I still think I liked The Black Cauldron better. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book and a fitting climax for a terrific series.

The story begins with Taran returning home to Caer Dallben after the events of Taran Wanderer. He find that Eilonwy is waiting for him—much to his joy. Much to his dismay, however, he finds that the evil Arawn was waiting nearby, too. Fflewder Flam arrives, helping along a severely injured Gwydion. Arawn disguised himself as Taran in order to lure Gwydion into a trap in order to steal the magical sword Dyrnwyn. Since Dyrnwyn is crucial in orchestrating Arawn’s defeat, they consult Hen Wen in order to determine the sword’s whereabouts. Using the rods, Hen Wen tells them they might as well ask the stones where the sword is, and that it’s not until midnight turns to noon will the sword be found. The rods shatter before Hen Wen can finish the prophecy. They then set out to reclaim the sword and defeat Arawn once and for all.

One of the things I loved in this book was how Hen Wen’s prophecy was fulfilled in every aspect, but not in the ways expected. When Hen Wen says that they might as well ask the stones where Dyrnwyn is, it is fulfilled by Taran almost hearing the rocks themselves whispering—not with his ears, but hearing them nonetheless. This leads him to Dyrnwyn. Hen Wen’s prophecy that night will turn to noon is fulfilled when Eilonwy’s bauble glows so bright the whole world lights up. These are just a couple of ways the prophecy is fulfilled in some kind of unexpected ways. I thought it was pretty cool, anyway.

Of course, I loved when Taran got his moment to shine—finally, after all these books, Taran got his moment in the spotlight of awesomeness! The moment he drew Dyrnwyn gave me goosebumps, and when he was the one to kill Arawn, it was super bawss. (‘Bawss’ is a technical term in the literary world.) I think what was so great about this was that we had to wait for it for so long, and the payoff is so sweet.

The continuity between this book and Taran Wanderer is excellent, too. We see how Taran’s wandering in the Free Commots has bred an immense amount of loyalty, which becomes crucial in The High King. Also, one of the main antagonists in Taran Wanderer shows up again, and the way he meets his just demise is totally awesome and deserved. The only thing that could have made it better was if Taran got to be the one delivering the final blow, but that does not particularly seem to be his character.

Finally, the thing I really loved about this book—Eilonwy! Yes, yes, yes! Eilonwy kicks BUTT in this book. She dons men’s armor, refusing to stay behind. She has an active role at last, including springing the others from jail and sending a warning that saves everyone’s skins. Hurray! I loved it so much!

There was one thing about this book which I did not like as much. Nearly every single villain has a monologue. A really long one, in the sort of stereotypical way during which the heroes stand unable to fight back, for some reason. At any rate, it seemed a little trite. Still, it is a small complaint about an otherwise wonderful book.

If you’ve been reading these reviews and still haven’t read the Prydain books, you really need to. They are a delightful, fun series of easy reads and are sure to delight the child in your heart.

Flash Fiction Friday: Suicide, Spoke the Cry

This flash fiction was inspired by the title, which I came across while looking at a random title generator. Such a dark title demands a dark tale, and this story is bathed with a dark motif accordingly. This story comes with a trigger warning of suicidal thoughts and brief mention of sexual assault. If this will be upsetting to you as a reader, please enjoy some of my other flash fictions or book reviews instead of reading this.

Darkness had bathed the world since the day of her birth. No one truly knew what had caused the darkness to fall; no one truly had an answer for why the sun had simply vanished one day, leaving the world in permanent dark. This did not stop people from placing the blame squarely on her shoulders. She was hated. Reviled. Strangers spat upon her and beat her. Even her own family, the people she should have trusted to care for her the most, pushed her away. The memory of her father’s slaps hot upon her face followed her every day.

Most people were convinced that her death would be the only thing to bring the sun back, and to end the twenty years of cold, darkness, and starvation that followed in the wake of her birth. But no one would kill her. No, life was sacred above all things. To take a life was to bring eternal condemnation on the murderer and his family. Thus, none were willing to end her life at the risk of their own. So instead, they chose to make her life a living hell. Men raped her, left her haunted with the memory of cruel hands upon her, made her suffer for no other reason than she had been born.

And every day she raised her eyes to the darkened firmament and asked why. Why she had been chosen to bear this suffering. Every day she thought of taking a blade and plunging it through her breast, to bring about the end that everyone so desperately wanted her to face. But she could not risk it, for even self-murder would bring eternal condemnation to her parents and her brothers and sisters. Even though they spurned her, what else did she have? How could she kill them along with herself?

Nevertheless, her heart beat to the cadence of the word suicide.

Suicide. Suicide. The cry that spoke again and again inside her, begging for answer.

Her fingertips were laced with cuts from where she played with the edge of a whetted knife, longing for death. Over and over again she prayed that all compassion could be stripped from her, so she would not care about hurting her family. But she had been cursed with a compassionate heart as well as a life of suffering.

One day, she sat in the alley behind her house, away from the family that hated her despite her love for them. She wept. She hid herself as best she could, praying that nobody could see her and deepen her suffering. An old man hobbled down the alley, barely visible in the starlight. She shrank back against the wall of her house, fear pounding in her throat. She clutched her knife tightly.

He stopped and fumbled around with something, and a match flared up as he lit a lantern. Soft orange light spilled through the alley like a whisper of days long forgotten. He turned and his eyes fell upon her.

“Ah,” he said. “You’re that girl who was born the day the sun went black.” With his cane, he gestured toward the blade in her hands. “And what do you suppose you’re going to do with that, young missy?”

She pressed her lips together and said nothing.

The man tilted his head. “Perhaps you’re thinking of ending your suffering, for once and for all?”

Slowly, hesitantly, she nodded.

“What good will that do anyone? You don’t really think your death will bring the sun back, do you? Or truly bring joy to anyone?”

“Everyone in this village longs for my death,” she said. “Even my own family.”

The old man smiled. “I don’t. Everyone in this village is so blinded by fear and hate they can’t see ‘twas them blocked the sun out in the first place. Your death would do nothing but condemn your family and bring even deeper darkness on the world.”

“How do you know this?”

“‘Twas I set the sun on its course in the first place, missy. I watched as the people of this village descended into hatred and darkness, bringing this on themselves. They only blame you so they can feel justified in their hate.”

“You…are the Maker?”

The old man inclined his head.

Rage coursed through her veins. “Why did you curse me so that I should be the one born on the day the sun went out?”

“I did not curse you. I gave you life.”

“It would have been better for me never to have been born!”

“And what joy and love would the world have lost for that? You are a beacon of light in the darkness, my most beautiful creation since the sun itself.”

“If I’m so beautiful to you, why have you left me to suffer alone all these years? Why would you do this to me?”

But in a gust of wind, the old man disappeared, leaving nothingness and darkness behind.

She wept aloud, burying her face in her hands. The knife clattered to the cobbles with a cold ring, nothing but the echo of a false promise of relief.

Suicide, spoke the cry of her heart.

Suicide, spoke the cry of the blade.

Life, spoke the voice of the Maker.

“Suicide, Spoke the Cry” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.

Knife image from