A fictive Principality

Somewhere in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Continuing the theme of Reading Wales during March, this Dewithon post focuses on a selection of Principality-related fiction that I’ve reviewed over the years.

To make it marginally more manageable I’ve deliberately excluded the following categories:

  • Non-fiction titles (obvs) like Roald Dahl’s Boy
  • Fiction that’s set in a non-specific area of what could be the Welsh Marches, as with Jill Rowan’s cross-genre novel The Legacy, being neither Wales nor England (I covered an aspect of this in a previous post, ‘At the margins’, though I might return to this theme at some stage)
  • Reviews and related posts about Wales concerned with works by Tolkien and Joan Aiken (as I’ve already gone on and on and on at length about them)

The titles cross a surprising number of genres: fantasy, speculative fiction, police procedural, historical, alternate history and supernatural horror. Feel free to explore the links to the reviews—or not, as the case may be!

‘Walled in or out?’ Nina Bawden’s dystopian novel for children Off the Road almost crosses the border into present Wales but the future narrative takes place on the western side of a artificial barrier, supposedly rendering it more barbarous than the more ‘civilised’ east; it represents a kind of ‘othering’ of a Wales that the author had visited in her classic Carrie’s War, which was told from an evacuee’s point of view. Meanwhile, ‘Big Magic and a Quark’ reviews Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, a comic fantasy for teens set partly in what is, in reality, Herefordshire as well as over the border in Brecknockshire (and also a liminal place in between). Expect a review of his Wales-set Early Riser in, hopefully, the not too distant future.

‘Hell hath no fury’ discusses Jan Newton’s police thriller Remember No More, a novel in which a Mancunian cop tries to adapt to a rural Welsh posting (much as the author herself had to do). From crime thriller to alternate history now: ‘The hand of the poet’ had us visit an isolated Welsh valley in the Black Mountains — here we contemplated a scenario in which Nazi Germany actually won the war, as detailed in Owen Sheers’ Resistance.

‘A tale told anew’ (Horatio Clare’s The Prince’s Pen) and ‘A Quest with Twists’ (Fflur Dafydd’s The White Trail) each take episodes from the medieval Welsh collection The Mabinogion and retell them in a mix of fantasy and magic realism. In contrast is Welshman Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, despite being, as I see it, “tame by modern standards”.

‘Genii loci’ reviews Jo Walton’s almost semi-autobiographical Among Others — a supernatural tale set in the Welsh valleys, it features a disabled young girl saddled with dark family mysteries and who discovers a love of fantasy and science fiction. Staying with speculative fiction, ‘A richly imagined future’ discusses Eifion Jenkins’ SF novel If You Fall I Will Catch You, in which the action moves from a dystopian Pembrokeshire out towards South America and then onwards to the stars.

‘Not outstanding but vivid’ was my verdict on David Hancocks’ Cunval’s Mission, a historical tale set in Dark Age Monmouthshire detailing the life of a hermit who has to cope with isolation, local politics and marauding soldiers. ‘Curious and convoluted’ was my view of Antal Szerb’s genre-crossing The Pendragon Legend, which brings a prewar Hungarian to the area around Dinas Bran in northeast Wales and where he finds more than he bargained for.


Coming, after a couple of new reviews, is a repost about Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (peculiar by nature as well as by name); it’s set in a fictional and also mythical island off the Pembrokeshire coast. This almost (but not quite) wraps up this little literary tour around Wales, except to say that it definitely won’t be my last bookish visit here.

12 thoughts on “A fictive Principality

  1. A delightful assemblage of titles set in or connected with Wales, Chris. An excellent post, as per… I’m so pleased you’ll be doing more of the same in the future. Llawer o ddiolch yn wir!

  2. Pingback: Wales Readathon 2019 – Book Jotter

  3. earthbalm

    Interesting list Chris. I enjoyed reading Arthur Machen’s narratives (must have been about a year ago and a free Kindle download) tame by modern standards, as you say, until I reached “The Three Imposters” which I found truly disturbing and was unable to finish.

    1. I must revisit his work for a proper reassessment—The Hill of Dreams which I last read in the early 1970s, along with some of his short stories. And maybe try The Three Imposters too! 🙂

  4. That’s a great selection of titles. I haven’t read any of those, but you’ve given me some ideas for future Wales-related reading.

  5. If I had time I would have read the first of Jo Walton’s alt-history trilogy. I only found out she was Welsh last week. Maybe I should save her trilogy for next year and make it a March project.

    1. Sounds a possibility! I hope to get back to her writing some time (!!!) as I know she’s highly regarded, but I had one of my rare lapses in suspending disbelief and totally gave up on her dragon novel Tooth and Claw.

      I believe she retains pride in her Welsh roots but is now domiciled in Canada, if not actually a citizen of there now.

    1. That would be something to look forward to! I joined in a New England read a couple of years ago run by Lory at Emerald City Book Review (https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2016/12/reading-new-england-wrap-up.html) and there were plenty to novels to choose from (I think I managed three or four titles) but I’m not aware of any Wisconsin-set novels. Here in the UK it’s not easy to think of the US as a union of individual states, though not hard to have rough-and-ready categories like East Coast, West Coast or Mid West!

      1. Ha! Oh yes. Everything either happens in NYC, LA, occasionally San Francisco and Miami, rarely Chicago, aaaaaaaand then there’s, you know, land. The Grand Canyon’s in there somewhere, and some mountains. The middle of the country may or may not have plumbing. Etc. etc. etc. 😉

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