The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain #2)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

From fairly early on, this book seems more assured than its predecessor. The Book of Three felt very Tolkien-by-numbers, while this feels more unique, like the author has found his rhythm and his own style. We start on a fairly standard quest, but I was expecting the quest to capture the Black Cauldron from the dark lord Arawn to be the main plot of the book, but that quickly falls by the wayside, and the search for the Cauldron takes a different turn.

Taran has matured in this book. He’s still hot-headed and quick to temper, but he’s no longer the whiny brat of the first book. That role is taken by Prince Ellidyr, who’s got arrogance and temper aplenty, but is hiding a deep emptiness within. Of the new characters, I liked Adaon the best, the bard with a deepset melancholy about him, something I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a children’s book like this.

The three enchantresses were intriguing. The blurb had set them up to be villains, plotting to use the Cauldron for evil purposes, and turning people into toads, but what we encounter are something possibly more like the three Fates of Greek mythology (they even have even a loom).

There’s a lot to enjoy here, although the book is substantially darker than its predecessor, so if you’re thinking of getting it for a child, you’d be best reading it through first to judge if it’s suitable (it’s not like it’ll take long). I’m enjoying seeing Taran maturing, and look forward to more of his adventures. It was disappointing to see Eilonwy get very little to do here – especially as she’s the only female character in the book, after how feisty she was in the last one. I believe the next book focuses more on her though, so hopefully that will balance things out.

Book details

Publisher: Fontana Lions
Year of publication: 1985

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