The fifth and final chapter in Taran’s adventures in Prydain, this book brings the various characters and conflicts together for one final big push. Not since The Book of Three has the story felt more like Tolkien, for better or worse. It’s not quite the Battle of Five Armies, but it’s in the ballpark. And the ending…I mean, yeah. It seems pretty familiar. That said, the book is a fitting ending to the story.
By this point, Taran is for all intents and purposes a young adult. He’s commanding troops, making decisions, and generally taking charge of situations. He’s still wracked with insecurity, which I think is author Lloyd Alexander’s way of telling young readers that adults are just as lost as kids, and they’re doing their best, too.
There’s a lot of loss and death in this one. Old friends don’t all make it. Sacrifices are made. Some grim actions have to be taken. There are also a few magical contrivances that maybe stretch things a bit. I guess when you deal with prophecy and destiny, that’s going to happen. I have to give Alexander credit for balancing the mythic and prophetic with character agency. Taran may be put in the right place at the right time by fate, but when the time comes, he still makes the choice (as do some of the other characters).
The very ending, after the final battle, kinda lost me a bit. It comes out of nowhere and feels a little out of step. I wonder if Alexander didn’t know how to end everything and so he just went to Tolkien for “inspiration.”
The very end aside, I really enjoyed the book, and I love the vibe of this series. Though The High King is the last novel, there’s one more book to read, a collection of short tales from Prydain.