The Ninth Wave, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)




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The Mabinogion is a collection of medieval Welsh stories of Celtic origin – they are written very much in the bardic tradition of oral storytelling. The eleven tales as normally collected have the four ‘branches’ of the Mabinogion proper, a set of Native Tales and three Romances; the Native Tales also include early references to King Arthur. During my obsessive Arthurian reading period some years ago, (see the previous post) I did include the Mabinogion. Like Malory, it is not an easy read, and the Welsh names take some getting used to, but these stories are full of magic, nature, and always the cycle of life.The publisher Seren, with its series of short novels ‘New Stories from the Mabinogion’ has commissioned contemporary re-tellings of the stories, (somewhat in the manner of the Canongate Myths). The Ninth Wave by Russell Celyn Jones is the second in the series.Jones takes the story of Pwyll from the first branch of the Mabinogion and rewrites it as a dystopian vision of a world without oil. Pwyll is a rich young aristocrat who has no idea of how to rule his land. One day out hunting he kills the dog of neighbouring ruler Arawn who proposes that Pwyll should swap places while Arawn quietly does some business, and he ends up getting drawn in to a plot by Arawn’s wife to murder her sister’s fiancée…I really enjoyed the imagery of Jones’ dystopian world in this one. A land where everyone has gone back to horses for transport, yet Little Chefs and Starbucks are still going – it’s that close to us now. Even more than now, it’s a land of haves and have-nots. Democracy has reverted back to medieval style feudal fiefdoms and tribal enclaves again which brings the story back full-circle to its origins."Mounted up and heading along the old motorway, with a hand-drawn map in his hands, he practised the lines he was to use on Havgan. He turned off at exit fifteen and was soon catching the highlights of kids ripping copper pipes off the wall of a house. A car burned at the side of the road, with people walking casually by as if this were nothing special. From shop to light manufacturing unit, there was precious little glass left anywhere in one piece."This marvellous short novel brings the essence of the original story to life and expands on it to create a whole from the episodic narratives of the Mabinogion.

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The Ninth Wave is a retelling of the First Branch of the Mabinogion, the story of Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed. The retelling is set somewhere in the future from now: a sort of post-apocalyptic world where fossil fuel has run out and everything is returning to a medieval, feudal state. For that reason, Jon Boden's 'Songs from the Floodplain' made an excellent soundtrack.<br/><br/>Lord Pwyll is based essentially on Prince Harry, as the afterword states. Everything's modern and rational, with no real magic in it at all -- CCTV and poison in the Starbucks frappucino. I didn't think it worked. I didn't believe in it at all: it just sped through the story, hitting vague similarities, shoehorning in the recognisable details.<br/><br/>The most powerful part of it is Pwyll and Pryderi surfing together at the end, and Rhiannon's grief after Pryderi's disappearance and the way she and Pwyll try to keep some hope alive, together. There are powerful moments, some good descriptions, but overall, it felt very thin to me.

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