"Doli!" Taran clapped the dwarf on the back. "I never thought I'd see you again. That is, really see you. Not after you gained the power to be invisible."
"Humph!" snorted the leather-jacketed dwarf. "Invisible! I've had all I want of that. Do you realize the effort it takes? Terrible! It makes my ears ring. And that's not the worst of it. Nobody can see you, so you get your toes stepped on, or an elbow jabbed in your eye. No, no, not for me. I can't stand it any more!"
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Synopsis: As long as the Black Cauldron exists, evil Arawn can continue making his army of animated corpses. Taran, Fflewddur Flam, Gurgi, Eilonwy, and a number of local nobles get caught up in Gwydion's plan to steal and destroy the cauldron. Before long, Taran is fighting Huntsmen outside his company and traitors within, taking more of the quest upon himself than he ought, and learning the harder side of what it means to be a man and a hero. For finding and destroying the cauldron will require greater sacrifices than he has ever imagined.
Notes: Lloyd Alexander's cast of quirky characters returned in full form for this second Prydain adventure. Faced with the enemy of his own pride, among other foes, Taran goes through some rather striking character development; his friends provide support, tonguelashing and comic relief.
The humor and Taran's character progression really make the book. Though a lot of the quirky personalities run dangerously close to gimmickry, the tale is short and fast-moving enough that it doesn't matter. I never quite got tired of Gurgi's whackings and smackings and moilings and spoilings, nor the twang of Fflewddur's harp strings. Best of all in my opinion, though, is Eilonwy, whose ice-pick honesty sometimes includes startling compliments mixed right in with the verbal whipping. Now that's good character portrayal.
The plot of this book moves more quickly and comfortably than I seem to remember from the first one, and I wound up liking it better overall. I read it in a couple of (comparatively) short sittings, and though certain plot threads were more predictable for an adult than they would be for the usual middle-grade audience, the story still engaged my sympathy and interest.
And, oddly, I could never quite dislike Ellidyr.
Recommendation: Read it on a crisp Sunday afternoon, with hot chocolate and dreams of heroism.