Song Castle

Written by Luke Waterson
Review by Linda Sever

Wales, 1176. The great lord of a newly-built castle is throwing a party, a contest of song, poetry and music, which he opens to all comers – and many are coming. The festival attracts a strange mix of colourful characters from all the known world, some of them talented wordsmiths and musicians, others with very little talent, the very wealthy and those in abject poverty. In the midst of this, Avery, a young bard, dreams of success. But he first has to make the journey, along with the other aspirants, through the treacherous roads of Wales – and anything could happen along the way. The book tells of those journeys, the incidents along the way and the resulting experience for those who make it.

Song Castle is based on the true story of the first Eisteddfod, the world’s oldest cultural festival, which took place at Cardigan Castle during the winter of 1176-77. This was a time when Wales was in its early stages of development and was known mainly for brutal warfare with growing tension between the Norman invaders and the native Welsh.

Waterson, author of a number of Lonely Planet books, uses his vast experience of travel writing to convey the characters’ perilous journeys through the bleak and often dangerous landscape of medieval Wales. The descriptions are vivid and intense, the prose and dialogue bringing to life a little-known period of history. The author drew on a vast amount of Welsh history books, as well as the scant existing contemporaneous material, to evoke a time when the country was in the throes of forging a separate national identity from England and the Eisteddford certainly made a big contribution towards the establishment of this.

Interesting read. Recommended.