The story starts with the boy Taran who is stuck on a farm where he tends the prize pig (who is an oracular pig, meaning she can foresee the future and has special hidden knowledge) and is learning smithy work. We meet him learning to make horseshoes, while yearning to make swords. Like many youths in fantasy, he longs for adventure and excitement. When the pig escapes and he chases after it, he begins the adventure of his dreams, meeting a prince, a bard, a plucky princess and a grumpy dwarf along the way.
Readers of The Lord of the Rings will associate some of the characters from The Book of Three with Tolkien's characters (the prince is gruffly attired as Aragorn is when first met and another character is quite similar superficially to Gollum). It was only a minor distraction for me. The characters are well drawn with interesting quirks that are played out throughout the story.
Taran grows throughout the story by making many mistakes and seeming mistakes. He is impulsive, not seeing the big picture. The trait is endearing because of his good-heartedness. Even as he thinks he's failed, the goodness in his acts comes back to reward him and other characters in the story.
This novel is a great read by itself and seems to be the start of a fine epic. I'm looking forward to the next book, The Black Cauldron.
Also, I can't pass up the chance to mention zombies. The bad guy in the story, King Arawn, uses a cauldron to create his army, known as the "Cauldron-Born." Check out this description and tell me they aren't zombies!
"Are they not men?" Taran asked.
"They were, once," replied Gwydion. "They are the dead whose bodies Arawn steals from their resting places in the long barrows. It is said he steeps them in a cauldron to give them life again--if it can be called life. Like death, they are forever silent; and their only thought is to bring others to the same bondage.
"Arawn keeps them as his guards in Annuvin, for their power wanes the longer and farther they be from their master. Yet from time to time Arawn sends certain of them outside Annuvin to perform his most ruthless tasks.
"These Cauldron-Born are utterly without mercy or pity," Gwydion continued, "for Arawn has worked still greater evil upon them. He has destroyed their remembrance of themselves as living men. They have no memory of tears or laughter, of sorrow or loving kindness. Among all Arawn's deeds, this is one of the cruelest." [pp. 34-35]