In White Ravens, myth weaves into modern lives and a wartime romance, the horror of death on an industrial scale corrupts the course of love, and hard lessons must be learnt, perhaps too late. A contemporary response to ‘Branwen, daughter of Llŷr’ (from The Mabinogion), Owen Sheers introduces fresh voltage to the core of an ancient Welsh folk tale, in the first of a series featuring some of the best Welsh writers.
Rhian, a twenty first-century Welsh farmer’s daughter, abandons her brothers in horror, but over the course of the novel is told a story that may just reunite them. Brilliantly endowed with a 'Russian doll quality' of stories within stories, the narrative DNA of the original is paralleled and echoed through time with ingenious fidelity. The misery of a 1940s bride chimes across the ages with that of Rhian (and a Celtic princess). The actions of Evan, returning from the war in Burma, draw comparisons, and consequences, with the abhorrent path taken by Rhian’s brothers (and by a murderously defiant prince). And the catastrophe of Foot and Mouth disease is a bleak match for the casually described tragedies that dominate the world of the source text, and those that Matthew and Evan struggle to escape after the war.
Compellingly written, the debts of honour which unleash conflict in the original tale become the consequences of post-war trauma, small-town malice, and deep familial love. In this novel, the extremes of displacement and of behaviour, and the need for reconciliation (implicit in The Mabinogion’s “hallucinatory narratives”), are given real psychological depth. Through very human stories, an ageless fable re-emerges: about how people deal with threats to their sense of humanity, and the pyrrhic victories that ensue.
'Swift prose that slips between its periods and levels with gravity and grace.'