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The Poisoned Crown
Amanda Hemingway
Del Rey, 374 pages

The Poisoned Crown
Amanda Hemingway
Amanda Hemingway has already lived through one lifetime, during which she traveled the world and supported herself through a variety of professions, including those of actress, barmaid, garage hand, laboratory assistant, journalist and model. Her new life is devoted to her writing, but she also finds time to ride, ski and attend the opera.

Amanda Hemingway's Website
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SF Site Review: The Greenstone Grail

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A review by Victoria Strauss

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Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion in this third volume.

Fifteen-year-old Nathan Ward, a human boy whose alien genetic heritage gives him the power to dream himself through the Gates between worlds, has already visited many realities in his quest for three ancient relics, part of a Great Spell crafted thousands of years ago to save a dying universe. The Cup and the Sword are safe in the keeping of Nathan's adopted uncle, the wizard Bartlemy; it remains only to find the final relic, the Crown.

Nathan's dreams lead him to Widewater, a world where the seas have swallowed the land and only ocean dwellers and creatures of the northern ice, merpeople and selkies among them, survive. Widewater is in thrall to a cruel water goddess, Nefanu, who hates the land and all warm-blooded creatures, and who is strangely similar to Nenufar, the cold-hearted water-spirit who has several times tried to cheat Nathan of the Sangreal relics. Nefanu of Widewater holds the Crown, deep beneath the seas in a vast cavern of air. Even with the help of the courageous albatross Ezroc and the outcast mermaid Denaero, Nathan doesn't see how he can possibly find a way to rescue it.

Meanwhile, Nathan's best friend Hazel Bagot explores her growing powers as a witch, with and without the help of Bartlemy. Nathan's mother Annie agonizes over how, and when, to tell Nathan the truth of his otherworldly parentage. Strange visitors to Bartlemy's secluded forest home bring news of signs and portents, of the unraveling of ancient spells and the weakening of the Ultimate Laws. And in Arkatron on Eos, the last refuge of life in a dead universe, the Grandir waits -- for Nathan, for the relics, for the culmination of a plan millennia in the making.

Of the many worlds where Nathan's dreams have brought him, Widewater is perhaps the most vivid, with its endless oceans and buried reefs and northern ice, its teeming creatures of the sea and air, its cruel goddess whose underwater lair is piled with the relics of lost human civilizations. The dramatic culmination of Nathan's quest for the Crown, in which he must confront Nefanu and survive the ocean and its perils, is only the leadup to the real climax: the completion of the Great Spell and the revelation of the true nature of the Grandir's plans, and Nathan's part in them. As in any good quest story, there's a test to be endured and a price to be paid; there's also a major catch that no one, except possibly the perennially contrary Hazel, has foreseen. Amanda Hemingway blurs the line between good and evil, making all the characters fallible in some way -- even the Grandir, whose millennia-attuned intellect, powerful beyond human imagination, nevertheless fails to grasp the tenacity of that uniquely human power, love.

Hemingway draws not just on Grail legend, but on a wide variety of British and other folklore, mixing in her own cosmology and blending science fiction and fantasy to wholly original effect. Nathan's and Hazel's lives as normal teenagers, all cell phones and video games and hormonal turmoil and parent problems, stand in sharp contrast to the dark and dangerous world of myth and magic that lies just an eyeblink beneath -- a reality no less compelling for being unacknowledged by most ordinary people (as is made clear in the semi-comic struggles of Annie's beau, policeman James Pobjoy, to find a way to rationalize the supernatural events in which he has been unwillingly caught up). The seriousness of the characters' dilemmas, the dangers and losses they must endure, are lightened by frequent flashes of dry humor. Most of all, Hemingway evokes the deep wonder of enchantment, terrible and beautiful at once, a wild power that can be harnessed but never truly controlled, and which is as likely to betray as serve its user. In this she recalls classic British fantasists such as Alan Garner, Elizabeth Goudge, and George MacDonald, in whose tradition this series stands.

Though marketed as YA, the Sangreal Trilogy is a crossover work that can be enjoyed equally by adults. In fact, fans of Hemingway's adult fantasy trilogy -- Prospero's Children, written as Jan Siegel -- will find much to recognize in The Poisoned Crown especially, which puts a new twist on the origins of human magical power in long-lost Atlantis, and gives small but crucial roles to several of the trilogy's more memorable characters, including Kal, the tormented half-human offspring of the evil witch Morgus. Suspenseful, imaginative, and beautifully written, this excellent series deserves a wide audience.

Copyright © 2007 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Awakened City, is available from HarperCollins Eos. For more information, visit her website.


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