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The Black Chalice
Marie Jakober
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 455 pages

The Black Chalice
Marie Jakober
Marie Jakober grew up in a log cabin on a small homestead in northern Alberta. Her home schooling, by correspondence, and an imaginative flair for storytelling brought her international recognition at age 13 with the publication of her poem The Fairy Queen. She graduated from Carleton University with distinction, and has toured, lectured, and served on numerous panels. She is the author of five books, including the science fiction novel The Mind Gods, and the winner of the 1985 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction for her novel Sandinista. She lives in Calgary, Canada.

Marie Jakober Website
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SF Site Review: The Black Chalice
Sample Chapter: The Black Chalice
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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The Black Chalice is certainly a well plotted, complex and well written novel of a fictitious 12th century German kingdom. While I might emphasize different elements in the plot of The Black Chalice than Ms. Strauss (in her review of The Black Chalice), she is indeed correct in bringing out the four main players as Karelian Brandeis, count of Lys; Raven of Car-Iduna, sorceress of the elder gods; Gottfried von Heyden, a man who would be king; and the man who narrates and ties them all together, Paul von Arduin.

Brandeis, for all his associations with pagan magic, displays far more "Christian" goodness than most of his contemporaries. The murder, pillaging and rapine he has seen under the auspices of the great Christian Crusade have turned him into a man who would like nothing better than stop fighting, retire to his castle with a wife and live out his days surrounded by his children. His experiences have also led him to reconsider his blind belief in the Church's teachings -- to the point of heresy. But the powerplay between Gottfried's Christian faction and Raven's old Norse gods and their own black grail (hence the title of the book) will not allow him to be a mere bystander.

When Gottfried confesses to Brandeis that he believes himself the direct descendant of Jesus Christ by the way of the Frankish King Clovis (reigned 481-511) and wishes to accede to the monarchy so he can lead a Holy War to wipe out pagan beliefs, Brandeis sees the potential for all the worst Christianity can offer. Legends have Mary Magdalen settling in the Languedoc region of southern Gaul after leaving Palestine with Joseph of Arimathea (the Holy Grail in tow) and, in some accounts, her husband Jesus Christ and his children. While heretical to some, these legends have been the subject of a number of books of somewhat dubious scholarship. Laurence Gardner's recent Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed and online outlines presented in Part I and Part II cover all you need to know. Indeed, Clovis I, the first Christian (converted from paganism by his wife Clotilde, who was sainted for it) and unifying king of France, is listed in a genealogy of Jesus. Believing himself to be descendant from Clovis, makes Gottfried truly directly anointed, if not God himself, and it goes to his head just a little bit... and he potentially gets to do for Germany what Clovis did for France.

Already Raven's lover, Brandeis seeks alliance and power to overcome Gottfried through her. Meanwhile, Paul, Brandeis' squire and a fountain of Christian indignation in the best Pharisee tradition, turns on his master, betraying him through a twisted sense of godly devotion... but ultimately Raven's forcing him to write the truth of his involvement, will show him for the ultimate self-serving spineless double-crosser that he is.

That The Black Chalice is a historical tale of intrigue and blind ambition doesn't preclude it from being the work of historical fantasy Ms. Strauss deems it. However, I have trouble categorizing Katherine Kurtz's long-running Deryni series, also set in a world of intrigue amongst heretics and a central church, as fantasy. I see it far more as an alternate history, since in my view the magic powers of the Deryni are secondary to the main intrigue-driven plot and thinly veiled historical context. This is even more true for The Black Chalice where the context is even more closely linked with real history. The double crosses and intrigue are quite reminiscent of the fight for power among Clovis' three sons (and their sisters and wives) after his death, as outlined in Gregory of Tours' Historia Francorum (c. 575), one of Marie Jakober's avowed sources. There are characters with supernatural powers, but if one takes the book as an alternate history of 12th century Germany, certainly many people of the era would have considered magic as fact, not fantasy. Not that this makes it any lesser of a novel, but I would argue, unlike Ms. Strauss, that The Black Chalice is first and foremost a historical novel, albeit one set in a time when paradigms of modern fantasy were normal to most people. A term coined by Donald M. Grant and others, "associational," perhaps best represents works like Talbot Mundy's Tros of Samothrace (1934), set at the time of Caesar's invasion of England; Robert W. Chambers' The Hidden Children (1914), set among the Iroquois confederacy; or S.R. Crockett's The Black Douglas, set during the time of Gilles de Rais' infamous murder spree in his castle in Brittany. So "associational" is the term I would apply to The Black Chalice. Ms. Strauss points out that the fantasy elements "blend seamlessly with the historical ones," perhaps this is why I saw much more the historical side of the text.

Paul's self-discovery, as Ms. Strauss points out is one of the strongest elements of the plot and is handled very well. Notwithstanding my disagreements as to genre, The Black Chalice is very well done, though you shouldn't expect lots of swashbuckling or cliffhanger situations. The characters are well developed, can swing back between good and evil (in whoever's version of good and evil you believe) and are actually placed before some moral dilemmas rather than prancing unhindered down a single road to their destiny. So historical fantasy or "associational" work, pick up The Black Chalice and find a rich tapestry of 12th century Germany.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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