This and The Book of Three
were always my least favorites of the series. In this case, I can see why.
Eilonwy is sent off to learn to be a lady (baaarf – to be fair, Eilonwy has basically the same reaction), and is seen off to the castle by Taran, Gurgi, and her feckless escort, Prince Rhun. Fflewddur Fflam is rather randomly also at the castle. So is Gwydion, not randomly and disguised as a shoemaker. (Hi, Mabinogion!)
In a plan which makes no sense whatsoever unless Gwydion has morphed into his trickster Mabinogion character and is fucking with everyone for the fun of it, Gwydion explains that Eilonwy is in grave danger, but Taran is not allowed to inform anyone of this, including Fflewddur and Eilonwy herself. Why she can’t know and so be able to take sensible precautions rather than, as happens, thinking Taran has gone insane and eventually going off with the guy no one bothered to warn her was the enemy, is never explained.
There are some funny bits and some plot set-ups for later books, but overall this book has big problems. Though I do note that it’s made completely explicit here that not only does Achren think Gwydion is hot, she wants him as her consort. That went completely over my head when I was ten, possibly because I didn’t know what “consort” meant. (I should also note Alexander's great restraint in NOT adding an additional l to the chapter "The Lair of Llyan.")
It seems like Alexander was thinking of this one as being Eilonwy-centric, but she’s more of a plot device than she is a character or plot-mover, and is off-stage for most of it. In fact she does less in this book than in any other except for Taran Wanderer
, in which she does not appear. I wish he’d gone ahead and given her a real solo adventure as a counterpoint to Taran Wanderer
, because this does not remotely cut it as an Eilonwy story. Even her climactic heroic action is seen from another’s point of view, and occurs while she’s hypnotized and not really aware of what she’s doing. Very disappointing.
The only reason I’m irritated rather than irate is that I can read Eilonwy as a prototype for Westmark’s
Mickle, who is a somewhat similar character type who does get her own story, her own agency, and is quite genuinely heroic.
Definitely the weakest book in the series. Luckily the next one is one of my favorites.The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain)