The White Trail by Fflur Dafydd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I bought this book for my sister as a Christmas present this past year. I was studying in Wales at the time, and as I like to get books for her, I felt something particularly Welsh was a good fit. That was really all I knew about it. After she finished, she passed it along to me.
So, to say I was surprised is a bit of an understatement. I really knew nothing of this book, this author, or the original story that it re-imagines. What I found was a really engaging story by a really talented author.
The whole series, New Tales of the Mabigonion, is a collection of medieval Welsh fairy tales reshaped for a modern audience. That is, the old characters are given a modern face-lift with new settings, new jobs and new(ish) stories. Their core, however, was meant to remain the same. The core of the story - the moral of the tale, if you will - remains the same.
What I was most impressed by was Dafydd's voice. There is a poetry and ease of narration to the book. Some of the descriptions are elegant and well-formulated, the word choice is immaculate, and the narrator easily slips and moves through time and space. I felt like the narrator was genuinely concerned for the central character, Cilyiad, and that the narrator did a good job of showing the lost befuddlement which he seemed to walk through life covered in. In short, the story was quite engaging and quite well-written.
I have two concerns: 1) The book had a lot of Welsh names in it which I was not really sure how to pronounce. This is my own fault, mind (it's not the author's job to know that I can't read Welsh names), but a pronunciation guide would have been helpful. I'm sure that, even to some native Welsh, Gwelw is a hard name to pronounce (and that was one of the shorter ones). Yes, I get that the book was to be connected to the original tale and I am sure the names were left unmolested. I understand that choice artistically; I just would have liked a little help is all. 2) The book was not very long, I found myself tearing through the book, due in part to the author's style and in larger part to the generous margins and spacing. At £8.99 (or roughly $14), I felt like I was owed more to read. With George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones books, I was given over 800 pages for about $9.00 (¢1.125 per page). It might have been nice for the publisher, Seren, to lump some of the books together and package them so that the reader gets more for the dollar (or pound, as the case may be).
In the end, though, I was neither too put off by the use of old, hard to pronounce names, nor the price per experience. I was really pleased, pleasantly surprised even, by the book, and I would read more from this series and from Fflur Dafydd.
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