Read our interview with Brian John HERE
Is there life after death? For Mistress Martha Morgan this becomes a very real and urgent question after her supposed demise in Volume 5 of the Angel Mountain Saga. Since to reveal more would constitute a 'spoiler' I will leave it to the reader to discover the details of her 'reincarnation'. In each of the earlier volumes, Martha, the mistress of Plas Ingli, becomes involved in fantastical adventures and this 'sequel' is no exception. A premonition leads her to the realization that she must stay alive whilst assuming a new identity in order to protect her estate and her beloved mountain - Carn Ingli . As the drama unfolds we are taken by turns to Cardigan, Newcastle Emlyn, the gutters of Cardiff and the man made hell of early industrial Merthyr Tydfil. A brief sojourn on the continent brings us back to Newport, Pembs for the thrilling finale in which a plot to destroy the estate and the mountain itself is foiled.
Thematically the book explores the concepts of identity and personality and poses the question- "What does loss of identity mean?". The author, Brian John , says in an afterword that he is also happy if prople read the book as an allegory of a recent campaign by locals to prevent the PCNPA ( Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority ) from spraying the lower slopes of Carn Ingli with an aerial herbicide to remove encroaching bracken.
The novel deals powerfully with the effects of industrialisation on the lives of ordinary people. It is, of course, barely possible to write meaningfully about Wales in the 19th and 20th centuries without addressing these themes. There are choice descriptions of "China", an industrial slum in central Merthyr:-
"In the district officially named Ponty-storehouse, but known to everyone as "China", between the Cyfarthfa works and the Taff, I found a veritable labyrinth of hovels clustered together more or less randomly, and separated by narrow alleyways. The hovels, called "the cellars", were mostly in a stinking ditch between the roadway and the mighty piles of slag and cinders from the nearby coke ovens which were prominent features of this landscape of Hell. The places inhabited by human beings were made of rough stone blocks, stolen bricks , pieces of solid slag, broken wooden beams , sheets of tin and old bits of canvas. In many hovels there were no windows. Grubby faces peered out at me from the spaces which should have held doors. The stinking pig-sties at the Plas were better built, cleaner and drier."
There are also colourful descriptions of the characters who inhabited this ghetto; the Rodneys , bullies and nymphs all presided over by the self styled Emperor of China. The Emperor and his Empress both make cameo appearances in the book as does Lady Charlotte Guest. Mistress Martha berates her for her hypocisy in no uncertain terms:-
"I told her on several occasions - perhaps unfairly - that her charitable works were no better than gestures, designed to demonstrate her role as a benefactor and to improve her standing in the eyes of the press and the politicians. ......... After all, she could have ameliorated the poverty of her workers at a stroke by diverting just a small proportion of the payments that went to her directors into expenditures on housing, schools, sanitation and water supplies."
The Angel Mountain saga is a fine period drama set in early 19th century West Wales. AmeriCymru recommends it unreservedly and we hope to be reviewing more volumes in this series shortly ( including the new one which is due for publication later this year ) .
Older readers may remember the BBC series Poldark set in Cornwall. Recently author Brian John launched a campaign ( see this post ) to have the Angel Mountain books serialised by the BBC. It would be wonderful to see a costume drama along the same lines as 'Poldark', which ran for three years on British television, set in West Wales. We can only wish him every success in this endeavour.