Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: The Book of Three

 I tried reading some Lloyd Alexander years ago (well, probably more than a few years ago now that I think about it) since my mom wanted me to read a broader range of stuff (or maybe I was whining I had nothing to read, either is likely) and I believe she had me check out The High King (which makes no sense since that seems to be the last book in this series, it might have been The Black Cauldron instead) and I didn't get very far in it* and put avoided Alexander for all of high school. But I saw a posting on the [info]enchantedinkpot where some people were reminiscing over the series and when I saw it at the school library I decided "what the heck" and grabbed it as well.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Sorry for the amazon logo on it but that was the only image I could find of my cover. The cutout illustration style isn't something you find much of these days and I don't really like it, it's like the publishers decided that since the book was fantasy it didn't deserve a realistic cover and I certainly don't find it that appealing.

Summary: Taran, the assistant pig keeper, is unhappy at how dull his life is when something startles the oracular pig he's supposed to guard and he runs after her into the woods. There he meets up with Prince Gwydion who explains that the disturbance was probably The Horned King, war lord of the very evil Arwan, and both set out to find the pig. From there Taran learns about the reality of adventuring, gets captured, meets up with odder people, and has a shot at becoming a hero of legend himself.

The Good: While the book feels very heavily Tolkien, not surprising since it's from 1964 and fantasy got less epic** after that, but the book does subvert a few of Tolkien's standard tropes. Taran discovers pretty early on that adventuring isn't nearly as grand as adventures make it out to be, his companions are even less likely to be heroes than he is, and can anyone name another story that has an oracular PIG in it? I sure can't and it makes me wonder why seers are always portrayed as mysterious but marginally nice people instead of something amazingly different like a pig. The characters also manage to feel very human in how they admit they're hardly hero material but hey, let's go for it anyway! They weren't fully developed but I do look forward to seeing them in future volumes and seeing how they grow there too.

The Bad: I feel a sorting algorithm of evil here, sure the baddie is gone by the end of the book but since this is the first in a series I bet we have even more to deal with later, ugh. That's one aspect of, well, lots of fiction (and video games) in general that I wish people would play around with more, it's just so normal it's dull. Also, even though I ended up liking the side characters, I just didn't like Taran that much here. Hopefully he'll grow up more and I'll like him more then, but here he was too obsessed with ideals and neither grounded enough nor creative enough to do much but whine about them. Sure he does step up to the plate and do what he needs to do to save the kingdom (and seems excited at the prospect of saving the kingdom), but in the end I found him annoying and a bit of an ass.

So, once my pile of books gets smaller (currently at four books, four manga and the book I'm currently reading, mind you that three of those books are 300+ pages) I'll figure out which book is next in the series and grab that. This book wasn't the best fantasy I've ever read but I'm really interested to see what the series can become. If so many people have fond memories of it then I'm sure I'll find something new in there that I'll love, well, I hope so anyway.

*If I recall correctly, my mom wanted me to check it out later again and thought I was remembering another book when I said I had tried this one. Wasn't until we found that my old receipt was in the book that I got out of trying it again.
**And I mean epic as in "the ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey," not as in "that was so amazing that I have no words big enough to describe it."