White Ravens, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Poetry Wales Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Myth & legend told as fiction
  • ISBN: 9781854115034

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Review by

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, 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). White Ravens by Owen Sheers is the first book in the series. Based upon the story of Branwen, daughter of Llyr, the second branch of the Mabinogion. This is a tale of two brothers, their sister and the love of her life. Sheers has chosen to set a wartime story within another contemporary narrative.We start in the near present on a farm in Wales where foot and mouth has caused Rhi”s brothers into the dangerous business of stealing and butchering lambs to supply fancy restaurants in London. Rhi hadn’t wanted to be a part of it, but one night necessity forced her to drive the van, and she abandons her brothers once in London – finding herself at the Tower of London. There she meets an old man who tells her another story, that seems to resonate with her own life.He tells of an Irishman, Matthew, who fights for the British in WWII. Wounded, he takes up office work, but one day is sent on a mission to pick up some raven chicks from a remote farm in Wales to replenish the Tower’s complement. Matthew arrives and meets a gentle giant of a farmer, Ben and later his sister Branwen and it’s love at first sight for both of them. Then on the day of their wedding, Bran’s other brother arrives back home from the war. Aghast at losing his beloved sister he perpetrates a shocking act of revenge that makes all the blood of the other pair of brothers’ butchery pale in comparison – animal lovers beware …The writing is very powerful indeed, and tears sprang to my eyes as I read this scene, and then again later when tragedy strikes again and again. War changes people and violence begets violence, whether physical or emotional, indeed the food cycle itself has death at its core. The moments of happiness in this book are few and far between, yet there is a moral to take from this tale and maybe it is not too late for Rhi …

Review by

This is the second book of this series I've read, the first one was Fflur Dafydd's The White Trail. It's equally brilliant. Highly recommended.

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