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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Anfadwaith by Llŷr Titus

02 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Anfadwaith by Llŷr Titus is published by Y Lolfa

Llŷr Titus’ novel Anfadwaith is one of the three works shortlisted in the fiction category for the Welsh language Wales Book of the Year 2024 award.

Jon Gower

This second novel from the talented Llŷn writer is in part a response to the author’s belief that there isn’t enough fantasy in Welsh writing at the moment. Anfadwaith, which means “evil” or “atrocity” is a murder mystery set in the Celtic mists of deep time, with much of the plot hinging on some unexplained deaths where horrible things have happened to the bodies. Some of the cadavers have been almost turned inside out by whatever attacked them, as if something or someone has clawed out the heart while the messed-up body parts are a bloody puzzle.

On the trail of the murderers – be they human or not – are Ithel and Adwen, two central characters who couldn’t be any different. Adwen is a drover, who knows the ways and byways of the countryside like the back of her weather-beaten hand but then finds herself in very alien territory as she joins Ithel’s quest to find out who killed the blacksmith, Sion y Gof. She is accompanied by her faithful corgi companion, Gel, who proves to be pretty fearless when needs be and is anything but a domesticated pet, especially when it really gets its teeth into something.

Ithel, meanwhile, is one of the Gwigiaid, a complex remnant of the time of the Druids and a being seemingly composed of many others, all sewn into the same body or form as some sort of punishment for crimes long past.  They are tasked with maintaining law and order, not easy when power plays are being enacted by rival kings who are willing to slaughter their rivals at a sword stroke.

Myriad dangers

Much of the novel hinges on Ithel and Adwen’s journey over land and water, with its odd encounters and myriad dangers. They meet strange creatures such as Twrw Dŵr ar Fwswg who guards bridges much as do trolls in northern climes and is not only a sworn enemy of drovers but has a predilection for eating them too. Luckily Adwen survives that encounter without becoming a giant’s hors d’oeuvre.

Utterly believable

There’s a very tense chapter when the two main characters find themselves under siege by goblins with claws and here Titus shows he has a a very deft hand on the novel’s controls, making things tense and the fantastical made utterly believeable as those creatures on the outside of the house where Ithel and Adwen are hiding try to tunnel their way in, Ithel, meanwhile is prone to visions, which gives their story extra texture and otherworldly dimensions.

Magic spells

The book is set in a time of change, when ‘the lanes are narrowing, the villages desiccating and those things that used to be out on the margins are pressing in closer to the centre.’ It is a time when badger claws are turned into medicinal powder, magic spells can summon up a strong wind and flesh-eating goblins can imitate human voices much like starlings can copy sounds.

As their quest grows longer so too does the pace of the novel pick up, moving at a canter now, taking the reader along at a pace.

When they reach journey’s end, a castle where preparations are being made to receive the king its is far from a place of sanctuary. Adwen finds herself working for a cook called Ceinwen and increasingly under suspicion, not least by the dastardly Andras, who is up to no good and then some. A plot has been set in train to kill the visiting king and all his men and the ensuing massacre sees the use of new and terrible weapons.

Beautiful language

Llŷr Titus is very good on atmosphere and landscapes, from cloying fog to the fug of disreputable inns, from seascapes where ships give chase to busy Breughel-esque market-places. The language throughout is rich and beautifully idiomatic: sometimes all it takes is person’s full name – Isgall af Dafydd ab Isgall ap Bleddyn ap Crindwr ap Lel to add a blurt of colour or a list of lordly and regal lineage – ‘Triffyn Gefngrwm, Rhys, Alaw Frech, Glwys, Hunydd’ to convey historical depth.

Without giving too much away some of the central mystery of the novel hinges on a scientific development with the suggestion that the rational, empirical world would edge out the world of myth and strange creatures.

This is a compelling fantasy novel which is the product of a vivid and fertile imagination, a journey into otherworlds which can seem like the Wales of years ago and then, in the same breath, be like something altogether and weirdly different.

Anfadwaith by Llŷr Titus is published by Y Lolfa and is available from all good bookshops.

Vote for the Welsh language Wales Book of the Year 2024 People’s Choice Award. 


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