A small monastic outpost in 13th Century Wales is rocked to its core when a gruesome discovery is made on the nearby shoreline: a severed human head. It’s the first of several to wash up along the surrounding coast, and not long after, the holy brothers stumble across the smouldering ruins of a bardic school with a pile of decapitated bodies inside. Only one survivor, barely alive, is found hiding nearby.
He is Cian Brydydd Mawr, the greatest bard of his age, who holds in his head the four ‘branches’ of an ancient, epic Welsh myth cycle: The Mabinogion. Physically weak but strong willed, he asks the monks to put aside their rigid Christian doctrine and commit his tales (which they see as pagan relics) to parchment. It takes the intervention of a king to persuade them. And as the old poet tells his tales of spirits and shape-shifters, spells and curses, passion and vengeance, no-one in his audience will ever be the same again.
Bloody Wonderful.The oral tradition and the written, perfectly met, bracingly alive.Max PorterA real gem: I read it avidly and then started re-reading it – a tremendously credible reworking of the material, which I found compelling reading. A wonderful achievement.Rowan WilliamsHere is a truly memorable novel, possibly a great one, standing at the intersection of the oral and the written. This is the novel that Lupton was born to write. It is by turns spiritual, magical, passionate, tender, visceral and gory. It is beautifully crafted. And its backbone is a humane engagement with the power and function of story.