I was not particularly looking forward to this one, in part because I found book one in the series, The Book of Three to only be so-so. But this installment in the Chronicles of Prydain was significantly better, enough so that I intend to read the next in the series instead of skipping straight to the Newbery-winning last book. The witches were strange and mad. The plot was darker, the writing was tighter and more interesting. And okay, so I saw the final ending coming a mile away, but it was still fascinating to get there. Having a distinguished plot is not necessarily about having a surprise ending. The craft that goes into pacing, the arrangement of events, and general skill of revealing information or character traits at specific times are all taken into account along with what we more typically think of as “plot”.
I like that the author continues to keep as a theme the idea that war is hell and that pride should be taken in small things, like plowing a field, not just (or even at all) in shedding blood “gloriously” in battle. From a Newbery perspective the development of themes was distinguished. It was not heavy-handed, but it was clear and present throughout the book.
I might have a new favorite fantasy series to recommend widely. I wish this was the first book in the series, since I know that as a child I was never able to get into The Book of Three, and even as an adult while I enjoyed that one for the most part, it was not with the same degree of enthusiasm I find for this much better novel.