*For Welsh review, see language toggle switch on top of page*
♥Welsh children's book of the month: July 2022♥
(suggested) interest age: 11+
(suggested) reading age: 12+
I feel a bit guilty admitting this, but I didn’t actually study the Mabinogi in school (I know, shock, right!) so I did get the impression that they were old, boring, crusty stories from the past. How wrong was I? Have you heard Branwen's story? Well, it's absolutely mad truth be told! With its fair share of betrayal, revenge, violence, giants, magic and epic battles, it could rival any summer blockbuster!
It serves as the backdrop for our story, Manawydan Jones: Y Pair Dadeni by Alun Davies, which weaves the folklore and mythology of the Mabinogi with modern everyday life, and all for a teenage audience [according to the publisher]. Well, I'm not a schoolboy - I'm much older, and I really enjoyed this one, so don't dismiss it just because you're older than the target audience!
Like a lot of cars these days, this book is a bit of hybrid fusion so we, as readers, get the best of both worlds! The author is successful in creating a piece of fiction that deals with fantasy, magic and otherworldly adventure, but is rooted in the mundane routine of everyday life. The story alternates between the fantasy world, and an intriguing detective story in the ‘muggle’ world. According to my Google research, we call the genre Magical Realism when we combine magic with the 'normal' world. I like it.
So who is Manawydan Jones and what’s a ‘Pair Dadeni?’
Manawydan Jones is a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, who at first seems ordinary enough, until an unexpected visitor arrives at school and demands to see him – a meeting that will change his life forever. I have to be careful here, because I don't want to say too much!
Yes, there are many extraordinary things about this boy. He doesn't talk at all, for starters. But even more unique than this is the fact that he is a descendant of one of the famous characters of the Mabinogi - Manawydan Fab Llŷr.
But why is he the ‘chosen one’? Well, let me tell you. Two factions have been pure enemies for centuries (since the days of the Mabinogi) and tensions between the two sides are increasing, with a major battle on the hroizon. The 'cyfeillion' represent peace and kindess whilst the ‘marchogion’ are totally up for a bit of violence and cruelty (a bit the Jedi and Sith type perhaps?) Everything is at stake and they desperately need Manadwyan’s help – but only if he has the "ability" of course (again, like ‘the force’ maybe?). Before he can be accepted as part of this brave crew, he will have to prove himself in the trials. (hunger games-style)
What was good about the novel?
This was a combination of some of my favorite genres. I like adventure and fantasy, but having that element of detective and police procedural was a bonus! IMO there wasn't too much "emotional fluff" about characters, but the novel delivered on plenty of tension, and crucially, action. Exactly what I wanted. That said, I some of the side-characters didn’t really get fleshed out, but I think we’ll get a chance to know more about them in the next book!
There were quite a lot of chapters, but they're very short (ideal), so it was easy to read a few each night, and the constant switching back and forth between Manawydan's story and Detective Saunders' efforts kept things fresh.
The main story about the magical cauldron (Pair Dadeni) kept me interested throughout, and I must say the idea of a cauldron with an unnatural power to bring back the dead is a good one, and a little bit creepy – perfect. There's no need to be afraid of being a bit dark with novels like this. Indeed, it reminds me of the White Walkers’ dead army in Game of Thrones, and the skeleton soldiers in the classic film, Jason and the Argonauts.
I was guilty of thinking that the Mabinogi were just boring Welsh history stuff, but I've been proved completely wrong. It's a testament to their longevity that they still inspire new stories to this day. I love the latest spin on the old tales, which is sure to introduce them to a new generation and make them relevant once again.
I need to know what happens next!!!
I don't remember seeing books like this on the shelf when I was a teenager. Maybe if I had, then I would have started reading fiction much earlier! Today's teenagers are being spoiled! The only thing that concerns me – are they actually finding out about great novels like this? I really hope so, because this book is worth £8.99 every penny! And if they sell enough copies, I'm sure Alun Davies will write part 2, so I can find out what happens next!! C'mon people – get ordering!