Christopher Rush's Reviews > The High King

The High King by Lloyd Alexander
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Jul 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: lloyd-alexander
Read from November 28 to December 03, 2015

A masterful conclusion to a masterful series, all the naysayers who say this series is only for children and doesn't stand up to grown-up readings and this and that should, in fact, be truly naysayers: say nothing, stop speaking, stop pretending they know about books and such. This holds up so well saying "it holds up" is an insult. It's a good book. It begins rather close on the heels of Taran Wanderer, giving us the impression not much time has happened since Taran found the Mirror of Lunet, which is probably for the best. Time passes quickly in books four and five, so one has to pay attention while reading it (but that's not a difficult chore). As with all the books in the series, the impetus for the plotline occurs almost immediately. Those of us who love our time in Prydain may wish for a slower beginning (but that's what The Wheel of Time is for), time for Taran to acclimate to his new life of self-awareness, but that's not how the series operates. It's a possibility, and that's what the characters have planned: a leisurely time of rejoicing while Eilonwy is visiting from Mona, with all the ol' friends together again for a time. But, instead, we are immediately thrown into a dangerous turn of events: Arawn has wounded Gwydion and stolen Dyrnwyn, and if those weren't bad enough, it's only his opening gambit - Arawn is amassing all his vile armies for total destruction on the free peoples. It is time for the final battle. We knew it was going to happen (it often does in fantasy series like this), and the end is upon us.
Similar to other series, which is not a detraction, not all of our friends make it to the end: adding to the painful realism of this series, we have to say goodbye to characters we have come to know and love before the final pages, and while they are all sad and unexpected, and the last is the saddest of all, they are all far more meaningful and realistic than the losses in Deathly Hallows and The Hobbit and a lot of other books that just kill off characters to no purpose.
The pace is quick in this one, in stark contrast to the previous book, but all of that is intentional and well-plotted. The scope of this is likewise distinct from the last couple of books, ranging all over the world of Prydain even more than Taran Wanderer, especially in the rapidity with which we travel the world. It's likely the pace of the story that makes it feel like a bigger scope than the others, in that while we don't go to many new places (like we did for most of the middle three novels), we go to places we haven't seen for several books, go to almost all the old familiar places quickly, gathering almost all our old friends together for a massive army to combat Arawn, and then it all explodes in our faces multiple times, brilliantly, painfully, and wonderfully. We (finally) get to two new places: Caer Dathyl and Mount Doom. What our imaginations have filled in, especially from the first book (we assume Taran and Co. spent some time with Gwydion and High King Math after that book), has proven true: Taran and Co. have been to Caer Dathyl before, but now we finally get to see it ourselves in all its splendor. We also get to see Annuvin and meet Arawn himself in the slam-bang finish of the book.
Lloyd Alexander ties up effectively every thread, character, and idea from the entire series very well with this, the longest of the series (and I would have been just fine if it were even longer): even people and ideas from the first book we may have forgotten come back in a rich, satisfying conclusion. Even the idea of the long-lost arts of farming, smithing, and the magic treasures long-since plundered by Arawn is brought to a satisfying conclusion, far better than what we assumed or hoped would happen. I don't want to spoil it any more here, except to reiterate how thoroughly and beautifully Mr. Alexander draws it all together. Not every single thing we've been wanting to know is answered, but even the manner of the "non-answer" is exactly the point (and this is true for multiple facets of the series and characters, and those who don't get it are probably the same people who think this series doesn't age well).
As heartbreakingly wonderful as the conclusion of the novel is, for multiple reasons, it's quite possible Gwydion is wrong in his final words to Taran. Whether they get on one more ship like Sam years later or whatever it may be, I do not believe that was the last time the companions are together. We will all be together with them in the Summer Country for a long, long time. Forever, in fact.
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Reading Progress

11/28/2015 marked as: currently-reading
12/05/2015 marked as: read

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