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Book review: The Sisters Of Cynvael by Diana Powell

05 May 2024 3 minute read
The Sisters on Cynvael by Diana Powell is published by Liquorice Fish Books

Philippa Davies

Diana Powell’s novella ‘The Sisters Of Cynvael’ has much to recommend it.

Coming in at 136 pages it can be devoured in one sitting, both writing and story enthrals, and while set in the late 1500s and early 1600s, first person main character Mared has a defiantly modern voice.

Like a snappy online persona, she repeatedly declares herself as ‘River birthed, wood raised me’.

Mared doesn’t shy away from directness either: ‘Hurry up you stupid bitch’ she declares while searching for a vulnerable girl, and ‘Piss off’, she says under her breath, to a request from her hypocritical, amoral father.


Indeed it is the characters here that make for such a vivid and engaging read. Mared’s father is The Master Of Cynvael, and he is a magician, soldier, preacher and a healer, his apparent skills and talents in high demand:

‘A shape-shifter, by profession, by sleight of hand, by connivance – pure and simple, switching with the time, the place, the audience, the need’.

Goodness, remind you of any recent prominent politicos  by any chance?

While Mared is a lover of nature and taking action, her sister Lizzie is a wordsmith, lover of books and researcher for her father. In this story, the power of words matters, too:

‘Words rising about the river, they must be, words transfixing his audience. WORDS, Words, words, WORDS, telling the flock how it should live, behave in the eyes of the Lord, his eyes, in particular here, in his valley, to make life here the best it could, should be, according to him. Do this, that, the other. Don’t do this, that, the other. And you will all go to Heaven, happily ever after’.

Dark acts

The story centres on the two sisters, their relationship with their father and his deceptions, and the turn things take when a beautiful young woman comes into the family.

How will the daughters deal with their father’s suspected dark acts and what are they exactly?

This highly imaginative telling is based on the legend of Huw Llwyd, who convinced local Christian clergy that the skills of sorcery were vital to ward off threats of evil and witchcraft.

If able to hat tip, Diana Powell’s version would surely acknowledge the Mabinogi, with Gwydion, Bloudeuwedd and Arianhrod featured in her story.

Main character Mared’s philosophy shares the pantheism of Dylan Thomas, fusing god, life spirit  and nature into one. The force that drives the green flower certainly drives her green age.

Blood and skulls

Nature is almost a character in this story and it is not a romanticized, picture postcard version, but one of skulls, blood, guts, cruelty and ancient wisdom, with echoes of RS Thomas.

Crafted with a feel of magical realism, this thought – provoking Welsh story contains intriguing historical detail and a contemporary relevance, which at times channels Donald Trump:

‘This is what can happen with tales. They can be turned, and turned again. All you have to do is believe’.

In short, a pocket-sized gem of a read inspired by some fascinating Welsh history.

The Sisters of Cynvael is published on 15 May 2024, by Liquorice Fish Books.

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