Bird, Blood, Snow

As I’m writing a paper about Nicola Griffith’s Spear for an academic conference, I figured I should look for other modern versions of the Peredur story. As it happens, Seren’s series of Mabinogion re-tellings includes a version of Peredur. It is by Cynan Jones, who is a successful Welsh literary writer (published in Granta and the like). He’s not, as far as I can see, known for fantasy.

In Bird, Blood, Snow, Jones sets Peredur in a modern day working class housing estate. Peredur’s lost father was a minor crime boss. His mother an alcoholic. In one of her more lucid moments, the mother takes Peredur away from the estate to try to raise him away from gang culture. It doesn’t work. One day Peredur sees a group of older boys go past on their bikes. They seem to him like knights out of a story book, and he decides to follow them.

Thanks to childhood trauma, young Peredur has serious mental health issues. The only way he knows to interact socially is through violence. Unfortunately he is very, very good at it.

The story is mostly told from the point of view of police officers, social workers and health workers, all of whom, with the best of intentions, try to get Peredur to live a normal life. They all fail. Many of them die. Killing is all that Peredur knows how to do.

I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what Jones was trying to do with this book. Is he making a comment on the violent nature of Arthurian romances (the Peredur of his book doesn’t kill anywhere near as many people as the Peredur of legend)? Is he pouring scorn on the well-meaning but useless service workers? Is the book a statement about the inherent violence of life on working class housing estates? It all seems a bit nihilistic.

What I will say is that Jones writes very well, and even though a lot of the text is somewhat experimental it is easy enough to follow the action. But I’m not sure that this book engages with The Mabinogion original in any useful way.

book cover
Title: Bird, Blood, Snow
By: Cynan Jones
Publisher: Seren
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